Opening Day 2013
I'm not a fan of starting the baseball season Sunday night on ESPN. Sorry. Opening Day for me is the Cincinnati Reds playing on a Monday and everyone playing a day later. But history and tradition are things we lose when they get in the way of revenue, so ... poof. Instead we get the game everyone's itching to watch, the Rangers vs. the Astros, tonight at 5 PM PST. Easter dinner in Texas, April Fools for the rest. Smart, Bud.
The AL West gets the Houston Astros this year. They and their $25 million payroll are in our division. Unrelated suggestion? The Angels should not be allowed to be called “The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.” It's the “Artist formerly known as Prince” of baseball names. Suggestions welcome. California Angels, maybe?
Our season ticket group, led by a personal friend of Raquel Welch, divvied up the M's baseball tickets Tuesday night. I only have six, which seems plenty. Seeing Baltimore in May, the Yankees in June, Angels and Twins in July, Texas in August and Houston in September. August is my favorite month to go to games in Seattle. It's when you can get a hint of the summer swelter melting everyone else. April can be awful, weatherwise, which is why I skipped it. And if it's not? Just walk down and buy some. The perks of 10 years of losing teams and dwindling attendance.
OK, time to check out the active leaders (career ranking in parentheses).
- Games: Derek Jeter, NYY: 2,585 (40th)
- At-Bats: Derek Jeter, NYY: 10,551 (16th)
- Hits: Derek Jeter, NYY: 3,304 (11th)
- Doubles: Todd Helton, Col: 570 (22nd)
- Triples: Carl Crawford, Bos.: 114 (T-110th)
Three of the top four in at-bats are Yankees: Jeter, A-Rod, Ichiro. Only Ichiro is healthy. In hits, A-Rod is 99 away from 3,000. Don't think he's not thinking it. Ichiro is 394 away. Don't think he's not thinking it, either.
Jose Reyes, meanwhile, is within three of Crawford in triples. Reyes still hits them, too: 38 over the last three years. Crawford is slowing down: overburned with moola. The two now meet up in the same division.
Other retirees since last Opening Day: Ivan Rodriguez (April 2012) and Johnny Damon (maybe).
Jeter, looking for another single. Once he's off the DL in June. Or August.
- Home Runs: Alex Rodriguez, NYY: 647 (5th)
- RBIs: Alex Rodriguez, NYY: 1.,950 (7th)
- Runs: Alex Rodriguez, NYY: 1,898 (10th)
A-Rod is gone for at least half the season but he's only 47 RBIs from moving past Musial, Gehrig and Bonds for 4th place all-time. Runs scored is more difficult. Plus he's got Jeter on his ass: only 30 behind. Could Jeter pass him this year? If Jeter's in scoring position with A-Rod up, does A-Rod pause? Poor A-Rod. Front page of the NY Times today is all about him: “Hitched to an Aging Star: Anatomy of a Deal, and Doubts.” More to come, I'm sure.
- Walks: Jason Giambi, Cle., 1,334 (34th)
- Strikeouts: Alex Rodriguez, NYY: 2,032 (4th)
This means Jim Thome, 42, has retired. Or hasn't. But he hit only 8 HRs last year, for 612 career. Eighteen shy of Junior. Hey, if it's truly over, he wound up only 50 strikeouts from breaking Reggie Jackson's once invincible record. No worries. Here comes Adam Dunn (2,031 and counting).
Interesting seeing Giambi atop the active career walks, with A-Rod third. Fun fact: Willie Randolph, the light-hitting second-baseman with the Bronx Zoo Yankees of the 1970s, had more career walks than A-Rod has: 1,243 to 1,217. Another fun fact: Jason Giambi is with Cleveland now. Missed that story, too.
- Stolen Bases: Juan Pierre, Mia.: 591 (19th)
- Caught Stealing: Juan Pierre, Mia.: 197 (7th)
The Juan Pierre experiment didn't quite work out in Philly, did it? But he improved his SB ratio greatly. Batting less often, he stole 10 more bases (37 to 27) and got caught 10 fewer times (17 to 7). Maybe, as I suggested last year, Chase Utley helped.
- Batting Average: Albert Pujols, Ana: .324 (T-41st)
- On-Base Percentage: Todd Helton, Col.: .418 (20th)
- Slugging Percentage: Albert Pujols, Ana: .607 (5th)
- On-Base-Plus Slugging: Albert Pujols, Ana: 1.022 (6th)
Albert may be a Prince but his percentage numbers are dropping like rocks. Since last year, he's lost four points in batting average, 10 in slugging, 14 in OPS. And he's signed thru when again? 2050? Talk about hitched to an aging star.
Helton is dropping, too. If he drops a bit further, Edgar, Our Man Edgar, currently 21st all time in OBP, will move into 20th place. Something to cheer for. M's fans have so little these days. Well, perfect games aside. I'll keep you posted.
- Offensive WAR: Alex Rodriguez, NYY: 112.2 (T-13th)
- Defensive WAR: Adrian Beltre: 22.1 (33rd)
- WAR for Position Players: Alex Rodriguez, NYY: 115.5 (12th)
Despite a bad year, or a vastly mediocre one, A-Rod's offensive WAR still went up. And the guy he's tied with? Lou Gehrig. But Lou went out a different way than A-Rod is going out. Unless there was a “Hitched to an Aging Star” NY Times headline in 1939 that we don't know about.
I still have a problem with WAR. There's no standard yet. Baseball Reference has their version of WAR, others have others. It's like they're still working on the formula. It's New Coke. Fans are wondering what was wrong with Classic Coke.
In 2012, both the Angels and SI said “Albert.” Did SI then say “Jinx”? For April, Albert had a .217 batting average, with no homeruns and 4 RBIs. He kinda turned it around, but not in Albert fashion. For the first time, he's not the best player on his team.
These categories are now wide open with the retirement, in every sense but the official announcement, of Jamie Moyer, who last year played for the Colorado Rockies (released June 1), the Orioles (three starts with its Triple A squad with a 1.69 ERA, released June 28), and Toronto (two starts with its Triple A squad, 8.18 ERA, released July 5). Dude surely has a coaching future ahead. Doesn't he?
- Games Started: Andy Pettitte, NYY: 491 (49th)
- Innings Pitched: Andy Pettitte, NYY: 3,130.2 (113th)
- Wins: Andy Pettitte, NYY: 245 (T-51st)
- Losses: Derek Lowe, Tex: 157 (T-131st)
Milestone alert! Roy Halladay is one win away from 200. Tim Hudson is three wins away from 200. I remember seeing Hudson in Triple A as a youngster. Yes, it was a long time ago.
Here's an indicator of how hard it is to win 300 games these days. C.C. Sabathia has 191. Johan Santana 139. Cliff Lee 125. Justin Verlander 124. And King Felix of Seattle? 98.
- Strikeouts: Andy Pettitte, NYY: 2,320 (44th)
- Walks: Barry Zito, SF: 1,004 (T-109th)
- Homeruns Allowed: Mark Buehrle, Tor: 300 (48th)
Give this to Andy Pettitte: He's career leader in the categories you want (wins, strikeouts), and not the categories you don't (losses, walks). Yeah, he played for the 21st-century Yankees, which made it easier to win and tougher to lose; but none of that had to do with his strikeout-walk ratio.
P.S. Apparently Javier Vasquez retired. Or not. But he's out for the season anyway.
Pettitte, ready to pitch another 50 innings; 75 tops.
- Complete Games: Roy Halladay, Phi: 66 (T-644th)
- Shutouts: Roy Halladay, Phi: 20 (T-244th)
- WAR for Pitchers: Roy Halladay, Phi.: 66.6 (40th)
Again, anyone who doesn't think complete games is the lifetime record least likely to be broken needs to look at the parentheses above. Halladay, the active leader, is 644th on the lifetime list. And he's not moving anywhere. Last year, he completed no games and threw no shutouts. So how about second in active CGs? That would be C.C. Sabathia ... with 35. Which is off the charts. The bottom of. C.C. would need three more complete games just to make the top 1,000 in this category. After a time, we won't even count these things. “Daddy, what does that mean—a complete game?” “Well, son, in olden times...”
Now to the Mo categories:
- Games: Mariano Rivera, NYY: 1051 (8th)
- Saves: Mariano Rivera, NYY: 608 (1st)
- WHIP (Walks/Hits per Inning Pitched): Mariano Rivera, NYY: 0.9978 (2nd)
- ERA (5 yrs. minimum): Mariano Rivera, NYY: 2.214 (13th)
- Adjusted ERA: Mariano Rivera, NYY: 206 (1st)
Trivia questions. Who is second on the active saves list to Mo's 608? Answer: Joe Nathan, Tex., with 298. Who is second in active ERA to Mo's 2.21? Adam Wainwright, 3.15. There's no one close to Mo. Whatever adjusted ERA is, he's No. 1 by far (second: Pedro Martinez, 154). He's second all-time in WHIP (to Addie Joss), and my favorite, being old school, is the career ERA thing. Everyone ahead of him was mostly a 19th century pitcher (Jim Devlin, Jack Pfiester) or the best of the early 20th century pitchers (Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson). The closest post-WWII guy is Hoyt Wilhelm in 45th place. The closest active player is the aforementined Wainwright in 228th. Again, the question isn't whether Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer of all time. The question is how far up do you want to place him among the greatest pitchers of all time?
Even so, it says something about how old these Yankees are. Of the 34 categories above, 18 are owned by Yankees. The Age of the Yankees has been replaced by the age of the Yankees.
Addie Joss of Cleveland is the only pitcher with a lower career WHIP than Mariano Rivera. This card, part of the Leonard Brecher Tobacco & Chewing Gum Card series, is also interesting for the words that are still compound words at the time: not only “base ball” but “team mates.” “Perfect game” was also not yet part of the vernacular. Via the Kentucky Digital Library.
All the Pretty Cherry Blossoms
I went for a walk around Capitol Hill Saturday, First Hill to Volunteer Park, as temps climbed into the mid-60s. All the cherry blossoms were out.
I also like still seing these “Approve 74” signs still up. Because we did.
Quote of the Day
“[In 'Olympus Has Fallen'], the Speaker of the House (Morgan Freeman) takes command, but the only one who can save the President—not to mention the world—is a disgraced former Secret Service agent, Mike Banning. He’s played by Gerard Butler, a second-tier star from Scotland whose lack of humor may remind you why Bruce Willis has lasted so long as an action hero.”
Butler: happy times.
Trailer of the Day: Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia (2013)
Could be good, could be crazy Cubans.
I certainly like this line:
Gore Vidal has been a thorn in the American establishment, of which he is, by birth at any rate, a charter member.
Reminds me of a line from one of my reviews of Vidal's books:
Gore Vidal is one of the great class traitors in American history and, for that, all of us who won't see a penny from the recent repeal of the estate tax should thank him.
One of the scarier lines is when Vidal, in the 1960s I believe, to William F. Buckley I believe, laments that, in the U.S., the top 5% own 20%, and the bottom 20% own 5%. Those were the days.
“Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia” will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in NYC on Thursday, April 18. After that? Who knows? Fingers crossed.
Reminder: the documentary, “Philip Roth: Unmasked” plays on PBS tonight. I'll be DVRing.
More Vidal posts at the link below.
- David Waldman of The American Prospect argues, FOX-News whining aside, why gay people are second-class citizens and Christians in this country will never be.
- Famous authors writing fan letters to other famous authors. Sometimes the letter writer is already famous (Norman Mailer to William Styron in 1953), sometimes they're not (George R.R. Martin to Stan Lee in 1964; James Joyce to Henrik Ibsen in 1901). Anyone out there write a fan letter to a writer? Don't think I have, although I did do the George R.R. Martin thing and sent a letter to Marvel Comics in 1973 about Spider-Man #128. It was never published. And so it began.
- More and more sites are using that sweeping technology to compare photos of the same place but in different times. Here's Paris in 1914 and today.
- A photo essay by Tom McNamara: In Newark They Read Philip Roth.
- I might write more about Jim Carrey's “Cold Dead Hand” video later, but for now just check it out. It's a dead-on parody of both “Hee Haw” and a kind of early '60s country music. It's also a major attack on Charlton Heston and the NRA. Encore?
- I've referenced this elsewhere, and might again in the future, but it's worth reading Scott Raab's profile of Robert Redford. The stuff about Pauline Kael alone is fascinating.
- My Friend John Rosengren has published a new biography called HANK GREENBERG: HERO OF HEROES. Mike Bauman at MLB.com is most impressed.
- Apparently there's a transcript online of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan in 1977 spitballing the ideas that became “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” I haven't read all that. I've just read Patrick Radden Keefe writing about that.
- There are three versions of the word “controversy” to describe Dan Savage in this El Paso Times piece, which is otherwise a good piece. Don't quite agree with his “slut” answer, btw, since it depends, doesn' t it, on how many other women the dude's teammates have slept with. If they've only slept with her (unlikely, I know) how are they all sluts? But in general he's right about the epithet's double-standard. What's more interesting is why it's a double standard. (Answer: Because all men are assumed to be sluts.)
- Fun fact: The payroll for the 2013 Houston Astros? $25 million. The salary for Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez, who will be on the DL half the season? $29 million.
- Why i09 thinks the death of Google's RSS Reader means the death of blogs like this one. I know. And it's hardly been born.
- This was on Facebook the other day. I like it. It's a particularly good message in Seattle, where people tend to put the passive in passive-aggressive.
James Baldwin Explains FOX-News in 1959
One of the disadvantages of Google, or search engines in general, is that you miss all the stuff you'd find on the way to finding what you're looking for.
For my review of “On the Road,” for example, I couldn't find, online, James Baldwin's criticism of Jack Kerouac, so I began to go through my books. Those things on the shelves back there. I thought it was in an early essay but “Notes of a Native Son” seemed too early. So maybe “Nobody Knows My Name”? And there it was. The last essay: “The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy.” The white boy in this case being Norman Mailer, not Kerouac.
But on the way to that discovery I re-read a few of the other essays, including the first, “The Discovery of What It Means to be an American,” and came across the line below. He's talking about the various differences between America, where he was born, and Europe, where he became an artist:
On the contrary, [Americans] have a very deep-seated distrust of real intellectual effort (probably because we suspect that it will destroy, as I hope it does, that myth of America to which we cling so desperately).
It's been a while since I've come across a sentence that so succinctly defines the message of the GOP generally and FOX-News specifically: distrust the intellectuals (elites) and cling to the myth (tall in the saddle). Most real intellectual effort destroys absolutism, which is what myths, and Fox News, are all about. Intellectual effort is hard, wish fulfillment is fun. Why we're where we are.
It's a shame, by the way, that James Baldwin wasn't around to see the election of Barack Obama and the shift in American attitudes toward homosexuality and same-sex marriage, the latter of which is being played out before the U.S. Supreme Court this week. Baldwin would have been 89 this year.
Quote of the Day
“Filming Superman was sometimes tedious and exasperating. I spent months hanging on wires for brief moments in the movie that would then have to be reshot. But ultimately it was a wonderful experience. One of my favorite memories is of running into John Gielgud in a hallway at Pinewood Studios. We had met before at a social occasion; now I was dressed in full Superman regalia. As he shook my hand he said, 'So delightful to see you. What are you doing now?'”
-- Christopher Reeve, “Still Me,” pp. 193-94
Movie Review: On the Road (2012)
Near the beginning of “On the Road,” the adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s seminal 1957 novel by screenwriter Jose Rivera and director Walter Salles, Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) is saying good-bye to friends Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge) and Dean Moriarity (Garrett Hedlund), who are leaving New York for Denver, and the three gather in a photobooth for a picture. Back then, apparently, you only got one photo, not four, so Dean takes out a razor blade and cuts the picture in half. Meaning he cuts Sal in half. Then he gives Sal the half with his picture on it (plus half of Sal) and keeps the half with Carlo (plus half of Sal).
You could say this represents the great bifurcation of Sal Paradise, who is trapped between the writing life, as represented by Carlo (read: Allen Ginsberg), and the wild, mad life on the road, as represented by Dean (Neal Cassady), and only much later, near the end of the movie, when the two halves are brought together again, does Sal see a way out of his dilemma. He joins the Dean and Carlo halves of his soul by taping together many hundreds of 8x11 pieces of paper until he has a whole roll; then he just cuts loose on the keyboard. In mad-to-live, mad-to-talk bursts, he reproduces their life on the road on paper. Which is supposedly how Kerouac created his masterpiece.
I was never a fan, by the way.
The white boy looks at the black boy looking at the white boy
I read “On the Road” for the first and only time in my early 20s, which is when you’re supposed to read it and fall in love with it, but I didn’t. I was a careful kid. Too careful, really, but I knew what I liked. I liked Salinger, Roth, Doctorow, and Irving, who wrote beautifully about things that mattered. Kerouac, it seemed to me, didn’t write beautifully about things that didn’t matter. The adventures he described were episodic and dull. His voice felt like someone trying to push a Volkswagen up to 150 mph. I found the characters Sal and Dean and Carlo, based upon Kerouac and his friends, frenetic and pretentious.
I wasn’t the only one.
In the essay, “The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy,” from the collection “Nobody Knows My Name,” James Baldwin takes Kerouac apart. First he quotes him at length:
At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching among the lights of 27th and Welton in the Denver colored section, wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough night. I wished I were a Denver Mexican, or even a poor overworked Jap, anything but what I so drearily was, a “white man” disillusioned. All my life I had white ambitions. … I passed the dark porches of Mexican and Negro homes; soft voices were there, occasionally the dusky knee of some mysterious sensuous gal; and dark faces of the men behind rose arbors. Little children sat like sages in ancient rocking chairs.
Then he lets him have it, keying in on one of Kerouac’s favorite words:
Now, this is absolute nonsense, of course, objectively considered, and offensive nonsense at that: I would hate to be in Kerouac’s shoes if he should ever be mad enough to read this aloud from the stage of Harlem’s Apollo Theater.
Salles’ movie, however, is quite good. Yes, it’s still episodic, and, yes, it merely builds toward dissolution—toward that moment when young friends are pulled in different directions, and they give up the mad life, or the chance at the mad life, and instead of seeing jazz in sweaty Negro clubs they see it at Carnegie Hall wearing suits and ties. But then the movie pushes past all that toward creation, Sal’s creation, or recreation, his melding of the two halves of his soul so he can write it all down. I like that.
We also lose, for the most part, Kerouac’s voice. This is generally a negative for movies adapting great works of literature. Who’d want to give up Fitzgerald’s voice in “The Great Gatsby,” Nabokov’s in “Lolita,” Proust’s or Joyce’s anywhere? But with Kerouac it’s a plus. I don’t have to hear him pushing his Volkswagen up to 150. I don’t have to hear him romanticize about dusky knees and lives he knows nothing about. Salles edits him. He makes Sal seem less of an asshole.
What they do with it
Watching Salles’ movie, I got a real sense of the narrow niche, in time and place, that allowed this story to occur. At one point they hop a train and I thought, “Fifteen years earlier, they would’ve been hobos in the Depression.” They rock out to Negro jazz and scat and I thought, “Ten years later, would it be rock n’ roll? And, if so, could they see themselves on the stage in a way they don’t now? Would they form a band, ‘The Beat Generation,’ with their Top 40 hit, ‘Mad to Live, Mad to Love’?” Their story happened the way it happened because it was after the Depression and after the war, but before the country was unified by television and the Interstate Highway Act of 1956.
Was the madness here a consequence of the war? A consequence of the bomb? Sal in the novel is ex-GI but I don’t think we get much war talk in the movie. One can assume these were kids raised during great economic dislocation, who, in adolescence, were geared toward war, propagandized daily, but who suddenly found themselves at the height of their energy and strength with no World War and no Depression. The rest of the world was licking its wounds, rebuilding from the rubble, but America was fairly untouched and affluent, and what did you do with that?
This is what Dean and Sal and company do with that:
- Get high
- Go to jazz clubs
- Drive fast
- Have lots of sex with lots of partners
- Have pseudo-intellectual conversations
They’re the model for every annoying undergraduate since.
They crisscross the country. At first, it’s Sal, alone, with his thumb, and he hangs with Carlo and Dean in Denver, then continues onto California, where he hooks up with Terry (Alice Braga, niece of Sonia), who is part of a migrant-worker community there. Everyone picks cotton, gets their dismal pay, but only Sal pauses before The Man with a look on his face. He can afford to. In voiceover he tells us, “I could feel the pull from my life calling me back.” He has that option. He gets to play at being a migrant worker and then leave. The others don’t. Hence Baldwin’s anger, above.
All of the characters love Dean. He’s handsome and vibrant and sexual. He wants, wants, wants, but without consequence, and there are always consequences. He wants the freedom to flit, but flitting means abandonment. It means betrayal. He’s a con man. I like when he gets the girl for Sal, Rita (Kaniehtiio Horn), and, with Carlo, the four of them are partying and drinking and dancing, and Rita says, “Bless me, Father, for I will sin.” Then we hear moaning from the bedroom, and the camera slowly pans left, to Carlo and … wait for it … Sal, dazed on the couch, where Sal wonders aloud: Wasn’t the girl for me? But all the girls are Dean’s.
The main girl is Marylou (Kristen Stewart), who is supposed to be 16, but Stewart hardly looks it. There’s also Camille (Kirsten Dunst), Dean’s wife in San Francisco. They have a baby, another on the way, when Sal shows up and Dean asks to go out with him by asking Camille along, too, knowing she can’t. She calls him on it but off he goes. When he returns at dawn, she demands he leave. There’s a great look on her face, panic as she gets what she wants, which isn’t what she wants. She wants him to stay, to beg her to stay, but that’s not him. So he leaves her there with one baby and another on the way. How bad must you be when William Burroughs (Old Bull Lee, played by Viggo Mortensen) calls you irresponsible?
The final abandonment is of Sal, with dysentery, in Mexico.
Marylou at 81
So “On the Road,” the movie, is better than “On the Road,” the book. It actually makes all the sex and drugs and travel look pretty bleak. The cast is good, and Hedlund, he of the deep voice, is a future star.
As I was writing this, though, I kept wondering about Marylou. If she was 16 in 1947 she’d be 81 now. Does she think back on those days? Does she remember sitting between two guys in the front seat of a ’49 Hudson shooting through Arizona, all three of them naked, and jacking them both off at the same time? What smile flits across her creased face then?
That’s the distance that matters to me. That’s the road the matters. We’re all on it.
Movie Review: Olympus Has Fallen (2013)
WARNING: U.S. SPOILERS
“Olympus Has Fallen” is patriotism porn. It’s Dick Cheney’s wet dream. It’s like living inside the mind of a Tea Party member for two hours. It seeps into our collective soul and sprouts patriotic dreams malformed by paranoia. It’s ultimately anti-patriotic.
What’s the appeal of movies like these? I don’t get it. At one point, having secured the White House after a bloody, bloody battle in which dozens of Secret Service officers die and the Washington Monument crumbles like the Twin Towers on 9/11 (or like the Washington Monument in “Superman II”), the terrorists, mostly Koreans, lower our bullet-riddled flag from the White House roof and toss it aside like yesterday’s garbage. It flutters to the ground in slow motion. The camera lingers on it as tragic music wells up. Why do the terrorists want to do this with our flag? They don’t. We want them to do this with our flag. So the moment will feel big. So it’ll feel monumental. So we’ll feel the need for revenge. So we’ll feel.
The movie is all about the American flag, really. It opens with the flag flapping inside the movie’s title; then we get a shot of the full Old Glory in slow-mo. Later, yes, the terrorists mistreat our torn flag, and when news spreads that the White House has been breached, and the President and his staff taken hostage in his bunker, the Middle East (no specific countries are mentioned) cheers and celebrates and burns the American flag. At the end, after the good guys win and the bad guy gets a knife to the brain, the last shot is—you guessed it—the American flag, restored.
The flag has greater character development, a greater story arc, than the hero.
Globalization … and fucking Wall Street
This is a “‘Die Hard’ in a …” movie, maybe the ultimate one, since White House trumps boat, plane, even Air Force One, and certainly Nakatomi Towers, but it borrows mightily, almost obscenely, from the original. Terrorists and screaming hostages? Check. Meet-up with villain pretending to be ally? Check. Remote conversation between hero and villain? Check. Hero warning gung-ho would-be allies away from rigged rooftop only to witness death and destruction of same? Check. Girlfriend/wife melting after seeing what her hero-man has been through? Check and mate.
Our hero-man is a Secret Service officer, Mike Banning, played by Gerard Butler, who is making a career out of films like these (“300,” “Law Abiding Citizen,” “Machine Gun Preacher”). Eighteen months earlier, Banning saved the life of the president, Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart), whose car was about to slide off an icy bridge. Unfortunately he couldn’t save Asher’s wife (Ashley Judd), so he’s been reassigned to a desk job at Treasury so he doesn’t remind POTUS of that horrible tragedy. One wonders: Was there no one else he could guard?
The attack comes on July 5, the day after, when there are already rumblings along the DMZ, and when the South Korean Prime Minister arrives for a visit with POTUS. That’s when a plane, piloted by impassive Asians (you know), shows up in D.C. airspace and two U.S. jets go to greet it. Unfortunately they’re no match for this newfangled Asian weapon—basically a cross between a sprinkler and a machine gun. We just don’t have technology like that. We only have technology that, you know, can target an ant on the other side of the world and take it out. But we need viable bad guys. Otherwise, how do we know we’re viable good guys?
Mike sees all this from his office and runs into the fray barking orders. “Go on!” he yells to passersby. “Get down!” he shouts to civilians. “RPG!” he warns the Secret Service officers. “NO!” he shouts as they get riddled with bullets. He’s last man standing. Everyone else that could possibly guard the White House, I mean every single motherfucking one of them, dies. Why? Because it has to be just one guy. We don’t know how to do it otherwise.
Meanwhile, Pres. Asher and his team have escaped into his bunker, the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), and, though it breaks protocol, he brings the South Korean PM and his detail with them. Oops. That detail, including Kang (Rick Yune), and former Secret Service officer Forbes (Dylan McDermott), are the terrorists. Well, not Forbes. He’s just a sell-out. Why does he sell out the President of the United States along with the United States of America? Because, as he says, and please imagine your dumbest voice here, “globalization and … fucking Wall Street!”
Kang, the would-be conqueror, whose mom (or was it his dad?) was blown up by a U.S. mine long ago, is the leader of that Korean terrorist group making all the headlines, and one of the most wanted men on the planet. Amazing that he got into the White House. But then we never had a picture of him. Our intelligence sucks. Stupid intelligence. Good thing we have Banning.
A lone man using violence to achieve justice
You could pretty much write it from here. Banning rescues the President’s son, Connor (Finley Jacobson, in his first non-dog movie), and then, in a game of cat-and-mouse, picks off the terrorists one at a time, sometimes four a time, on his way to the ultimate showdown with Kang.
Meanwhile, Kang’s true goals are slowly revealed. He demands of the acting president, Speaker of the House Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), that the U.S. leave South Korea and the 7th fleet pull back, but this is mostly a ruse. He’s really after the Cerberus code.
What’s the Cerberus code? It’s a three-pronged failsafe to blow up launched nukes. Basically Kang needs the code from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of Defense and the President, all of whom are prisoners in PEOC; and each time he tortures one, POTUS caves. “Tell him!” he barks. Then with a sneer: “But he won’t get the code from me.” The Chairman gets a knife to the throat, while the Defense Secretary (Melissa Leo), in a scene that’s pretty hard to watch, gets punched and kicked and pummeled. I mean, she gets the shit beaten out of her. (Is this some anti-Hilary fantasy?) But she stands tall. Or crawls tall. Until the President tells her to cave. Because “He won’t get the code from me!” Besides, no nukes have been launched, so what’s the point of the code?
It takes most of the movie for the other shoe to drop. He means to blow them up in their silos! All of them! The U.S. will become a nuclear wasteland. Our overly paranoid defense program will become our overly paranoid destruction fantasy. If, that is, Kang can get the final code from the President.
How does he do it? I think he just has it. He just enters it. Still, it takes him awhile to launch the countdown sequence, since he has to allow Banning to get close. Kang’s superefficient team, which took out the entire U.S. military-industrial complex, gets taken out, one by one, by one guy. Then this one guy, battered and bruised and bloody, takes out Kang with the promised knife to the brain and saves the U.S. (and much of Canada and Mexico, I’d imagine) from destruction, and from every wrongheaded move by every other person in the movie. Seriously. The President caves, the Speaker negotiates, the General rushes in. Everyone else makes the obvious wrong move. Why? Because it has to be just one guy. We don’t know how to do it otherwise.
What liberal Hollywood?
So what’s the appeal of movies like these? Is it that favorite Thomas Jefferson quote of nutjobs everywhere? “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” So dimwits watch movies like these and feel a surge of patriotism. How sad. I don’t need movies like these to feel patriotic. I don’t need to see the U.S. being attacked, and the White House in ruins, and the flag fluttering to the ground. What does it say about those who do?
More, what’s the effect of movies like these? Do they make us more paranoid? Bit by bit? Would patriotic paranoids be less fucked-up if Hollywood didn’t exist? Is this the true source of their anger toward liberal Hollywood?
I know: liberal Hollywood. What liberal fucking Hollywood?
Will Leitch's 'Bombers Won't Bomb' Article, with YANKEES SUCK Annotations
There's no byline to the piece, just an afterword email address for Will Leitch, so I assume he wrote it. Me, I barely got past the first paragraph. This is how it begins:
The Yankees’ payroll for this year is around $206 million, at least $100 million of which is set to vanish after this season. Some of that is for players the Yankees will want back, like Robinson Cano, but the Yanks feel comfortable saying good-bye to fellow heavy earners Curtis Granderson, Youkilis, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and the retiring Mariano Rivera.
As a devout, nationally recognized Yankees hater, I feel very comfortable saying good-bye to Mariano Rivera, too, for he is surely the most dominating figure in the postseason over the past 15 years. And what's Kevin Youkilis doing on this list? He just arrived in the Bronx. He hasn't even played one real game for the Yanks and the media and the fans and the team are happy to see him go? The Yankees say good-bye as Youkilis says hello? Hello Hello? Where is this info coming from? What front office figure?
Kuroda? Bum! Just a 3.32 ERA last year. Granderson? Sure, he hit only .232. He also smacked 43 homeruns, tied for second in the league, with the third-best OPS on the team after Cano and the now-departed Nick Swisher. These guys were horses. To the Yankees? Gift horses, apparently.
The savings from those five contracts is $64 million. ... The point is, it’s a good time to get under the luxury-tax threshold. Getting below the tax line now and staying there for a couple of years will make it a lot easier to land high-priced, game-changing free agents like Bryce Harper, who will be entering his prime as a 26-year-old after the 2018 season.
OK, seriously, this is why everybody hates the fucking Yankees. It's the sense of privilege. It's the assumption that any good young player coming through your farm system will be theirs. “He'll look good in pinstripes,” etc. It's as if every time George Clooney met a good-looking girl, he told the girl's boyfriend, husband, father, “She'll look good with me.” Assholes. And did the Cliff Lee experience teach them nothing?
(BTW: Early copyright on “The Cliff Lee Experience” as band name.)
Just spending money like crazy is no longer the optimal way to construct a championship team; the penalties are too high. The Yankees are trying to adjust accordingly—building the farm system, avoiding veterans on long-term contracts (essentially what they did to build the core four of Jeter, Rivera, Posada, and Pettitte), while also making sure they can again spend like the Yankees you know and love when the time is right. It is exactly the right move.
Wait, I thought they were after the Bryce Harpers of the world. Now they want to build a core team via the farm system as they did in the early 1990s? I don't think you can do both. You get big-name free agents, you give up draft picks. What were the Yankees big free-agent signings in the 1990s? Wade Boggs at the tail-end of his career? Hideki Irabu? But nothing like a Bryce Harper. Once they started doing that—signing superstars like Jason Giambi in 2002 and Alex Rodriguez in 2004—they began to lose. Spectacularly. Gloriously.
The entire piece is about how the Yankees still look to win the AL East despite a cut in payroll to $206 million. Another reason to hate the Yankees. They think that's a cut. They think it's a sacrifice that another team is actually spending more than they are. They are truly the 1% of Major League Baseball.
The last Yankee at-bat of the 2012 season. Delicious.
The Best Film of 2012, 'Rust and Bone,' Out on DVD
“De rouille et d’os” (“Rust and Bone”) is a beautiful film about tragic circumstances. In the hands of a lesser writer-director, it would be melodrama but Jacques Audiard (“Un Prophete”) makes poetry out of it. A bloody tooth, loosened during a fight, spins in slow motion on the pavement as if in dance. A woman whose legs have been cut off above the knee returns to the ocean, whose warm waters glisten. Later, with metal legs and cane, she walks down the steps at Marineland, where she once worked, and stands in silence before a large glass tank. She pats the glass once, twice. After a moment, a monster looms into view. An Orca. The Orca? The one who took her legs? One assumes not. One assumes that one has been killed but you never know and Audiard never says. We simply watch the whale move with her movements. It’s been trained, and she was one of its trainers. She’s confronting her past, finally, but it’s also a moment steeped in silence and mystery and beauty and forgiveness. It’s the best scene of 2012.
And here is the cover of the U.S. DVD:
WTF? Seriously, out of all of the beautiful, haunting images in that film, that's what they choose? This shot? This shot that isn't even a shot from the movie? Anyone know who decides these things? Why they went with this? Why not any of these other shots?
Here's what the DVD looks like, front and back, in France:
C'est mieux comme ça.
Movie Review: Admission (2013)
If Sarah Palin ever wants her revenge on Tina Fey, her bete noire, her impersonator extraordinaire, she should just watch “Admission,” the startling unfunny comedy from writer Karen Croner (“One True Thing”) and director Paul Weitz (“About a Boy”). Fey, le femme forte of left-wing comedy, flounders as badly here as Palin did during that Katie Couric interview. It’s a train wreck of a movie. I laughed about five times during its nearly two-hour runtime.
Change has come to the Princeton admissions office
Fey plays Portia Nathan, an officious admissions officer at Princeton University, the No. 1 college in the country, where, the previous year, 26,241 applied. Fewer than 1500 were accepted. Rough.
It’s Portia’s 16th year on the job, same old same old, but this year change begins to come to Princeton. Witness:
- The Dean of Admissions (Wallace Shawn) is stepping down, and both Portia and her rival, Corinne (Gloria Reuben), are considered favorites for the job. These two, behind tight smiles, make hissing sounds at each other throughout the movie, until they kiss and make up. Kind of. And without the kissing.
- Portia’s longtime significant other, Chaucer scholar Mark (Michael Sheen), with whom she shares a sexless, childless, tea-drinking and poetry-reading existence, leaves her for a bitchy, domineering Virginia Woolf scholar, Helen (Sonia Walger).
- On a run through the various prep schools of New England (Do ivy-league admissions officers do this? Like they’re Willy Loman or something?), Portia stops off at Quest, an alternative school in backwoods New Hampshire, to look at a potential genius student, Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), at the request of the school’s founder, John Pressman (Paul Rudd). And, hey, guess what? Turns out Jeremiah is the child she gave up at Dartmouth 18 years ago.
So a lot of changes in her life all of a sudden. Plus Pressman’s cute, is raising a child from Uganda on his own, and goes around the world building dikes and shit for poor people. Much better than a sexless dude who reads Chaucer in bed.
Does she … or doesn’t she?
The drama, such as it is, is this: What does Portia do with this information about Jeremiah? Does she help her biological son, an autodidact with great SATs but lousy grades, get into her impossible-to-get-into ivy-league school? What are the ethical boundaries here?
Actually, the ethical boundaries never come up. John keeps pushing, she is pushed, willingly, and eventually she’ll do anything to get Jeremiah, a kid she would normally reject, into Princeton. I guess she has feelings now. I guess that makes it OK.
She plays political games with the other admissions officers, agreeing, with quid pro quo looks and glances, to accept their favorites in exchange, she hopes, for hers. Doesn’t happen. Corinne can’t accept a D student. So Portia breaks into the Dean’s office, changes his Excel spreadsheet on approvals/rejections, then switches the sticker on Jeremiah’s folder with that of an approved student whom she knows has already accepted Yale. Easy peasy. Remember kids: It’s who you know. Or who gave you up for adoption.
Does the movie ever condemn her for this action? Not really. She’s fired, sure, but there’s no mea culpa. She’s proud of what she did, even when she discovers that Jeremiah is not her biological son. The 1 PM February 14th birthdate? It was totally 11 PM.
Still, she comes to terms with herself. She stands up to her domineering, Erica-Jong quoting mother (Lily Tomlin). She tries to connect with her true biological son, who doesn’t want to see her. But she has John now, and his son, and John—in a subplot whose outcome is excruciatingly transparent—decides not to go to Ecuador to build some yadda yadda, but stays in New Hampshire, where his son wants to stay, and continue to educate a bunch of kids in the snooty, farm-friendly way he’s been educating them.
Listen, if “Admission” were poignant, great. It’s not. It makes a weak argument for education-for-education’s sake, which is sweet and all, but hardly practical. I should know. That was basically my education. You need to be educated in the way the world works, too. You need to know what you’re up against when you leave college. Plus, shouldn’t education-for-education’s sake include one lesson on ethics?
Listen, if it were smart, great. It’s not. Early on, a neighbor, Rachael (Sarita Choudhury), deposits her three kids with Portia without warning, or even asking, then leaves. When she returns they’re crying and she blames Portia. What’s the point of this scene? I think it’s supposed to be: Portia’s no good with kids. What I got out of it? Rachael is a major asshole.
Listen, if it were funny, great. It’s not. You get these kinds of lines during a fight between John and Portia:
Portia: I am so glad you’re going to Ecuador except for one thing.
Portia: I feel sorry for the Ecuadorans!
Paul Rudd isn’t bad. Nat Wolff is quite good as Jeremiah. But Tina Fey gives off nothing. What compelled her to do this?
The Answer Man Answers Your Movie Questions
People come to this site for all kinds of reasons—mostly to grab a sliver of information and run—but it's often intriguing when they posit their search query, in Google or Bing or Yahoo, in the form of a question. What don't people get about the movies? What do they really, really need to know about the movie they just saw?
Here are some of those questions.
Why did Dr. King Schultz kill Calvin Candie?
I argue it's because he was usurped, for maybe for the first time in his life, in the storyteller role. It's the source of his power and he didn't like losing the source of his power. But QT added the memory of the slave being torn apart by dogs and thus added a moral rationale for the murder. A mistake, if you ask me. But not if you ask the Academy.
How did Lisbeth survive being buried alive?
She's Lisbeth. What? She's gonna die?
What were M's last words to Bond in Skyfall?
No idea. But everybody wants to know this. I get this query several times a day. Feel slightly guilty that my review doesn't answer it. Slightly.
What was wispered [sic] to Nikki on [sic] Silver Linins [sic] Playbook?
I think we're just supposed to assume what's said, based on what happens afterward. If this were 10 years ago, I guess I'd be getting search queries about what Bill Murray whispered to Scarlett Johansson in “Lost in Translation.” Just go with it, kids. Use your imagination.
Why does Sam say she loves bulimia?
She doesn't. In “Perks of Being a Wallflower,” Sam (Emma Watson) says she's a bulemicist. She's being clever and funny and charming. As if being Emma Watson wasn't enough.
Why Chasing Ice is a false documentary.
Not in the form of a question, dude. In fact, it appears to be buttressing an already-formed opinion. Sad. We should be teaching this in fucking kindergarten already. The goal is to look at the evidence and come to a conclusion, not have a conclusion and search for the evidence to back that up. Please.
Who is the French girl at the end of Midnight in Paris?
Léa Seydoux. Here's a tumblr dedicated to her. She's really not as alone and unattached as she appears in the movie. She's not vulnerable. This is a fantasy. She's a world-famous model and actress. You have no shot, chief.
Léa Seydoux at the end of “Midnight in Paris.” What a cute open French girl who just happens to be unattached!
Breaking the Fourth Wall
For the past few weeks, Patricia and I have been watching all 13 episodes of Netflix's new show, “House of Cards,” in which Kevin Spacey's character, Rep. Frank Underwood (D-SC), keeps breaking the fourth wall, a la Richard III, to tell us his inner thoughts and potential schemes and means to power. It's fun, and Spacey does it impeccably.
I mentioned this at work the other day and one of my colleagues brought up a new YouTube video that compiles great fourth-wall breakers, from, yes, Richard III, to Alvy Singer to Superman:
Not sure why they began the way they began. With a literal breaking of a wall? The “Blazing Saddles” stuff is less fourth-wall-breaking and more self-referential, isn't it? The James Bond, too, is post-modern/meta. I would've begun with Rob Gordon in “High Fidelity.” He gives you your structure.
Plus there's a whole lot more Groucho they could've done.
But the “Sweet Transvestite” number—Dr. Frankenfurter leading to Belushi to Damien to Norman Bates—is inspired.
Is fourth-wall breaking better for comedy and horror? To make us laugh or scare us? Seems to.
What's your favorite example? How would you rank them? I might put Norman Bates No. 1: When the voyeur, being watched (by us), watches back; when he reclaims that power.
Missing scenes? Off the top of my head, and besides Groucho, I'd go with Eddie Murphy in “Trading Places”: “... pork bellies, which is used to make bacon, which you might find in a bacon and lettuce and tomato sandwich.” Then the look.
Quote of the Day
“There's a great line by T.S. Eliot: 'There's only the trying. The rest is not our business.' Just keep trying. Do what you can, but don't stop, and particularly don't stop at that sign that says success. Run that light. Run that light.”
-- Robert Redford, in Scott Raab's great profile, “Free at Last: The Robert Redford Story,” in the April issue of Esquire.
“Mr. Dahlberg? Mr. Ken Dahlberg?” Bob Woodward, trying.
How I Nearly Died on the Way to Work Yesterday
SEATTLE — It was raining pretty hard for my morning bike ride yesterday morning, and I was soaked by the time I got close to work. I live in First Hill and the office is in lower Queen Anne, so I tend to weave through downtown, over to 1st Avenue North, take a left by Key Arena and then a right onto 1st Avenue West for half a block. At which point, halfway down the two-lane road, I take a left into a parking lot, which leads to the bike racks below our office building.
(Aside: Only in Seattle would you have, on either side of a major street, two 1st Avenues labeled “North” and “West,” even though they run parallel to each other. Shouldn't it be “North” and “South”? Or “East” and “West”?)
The turn onto 1st Avenue West is always a drag. It's a four-way stop, and there are almost always cars, generally impatient, heading up 1st Avenue West. I'm coming down a slight hill, then have to turn over a rough patch of road, and then go up a slight hill. More, I need to own the lane, rather than ride on the right-hand side of it, since I'm about to turn left into the parking lot. Doing this, I assume I'm pissing off cars behind me. I assume they're wondering, “Why is this asshole taking up the middle of our lane? Why isn't he off to the right so I can get past him?” By that point, hopefully, I've taken my left into the parking lot, they go, “Oh,” and all is good.
Yesterday morning, as I was about to make that final left, the car behind me—a pickup truck, it turned out, perpetuating my stereotype of pickup-truck drivers—gunned its engines and flew past me in the left lane, just as I was about to turn into that lane to get into the parking lot. If I wasn't paying attention, I would've been flattened.
I cursed a blue streak but the guy drove away. He was late, after all. He had important business, after all.
On the way home, I saw another pickup truck fly through a red light on Denny. Like five seconds after it had turned red. I think he just wasn't paying attention.
Anyway, another day. Still here.
This is the way I think I'll end
This is the way I think I'll end
This is the way I think I'll end
Not with a whimper but a splat
Henny Penny, When the Sky Fell: 'No End in Sight' and the 10th Anniversary of the Iraq Invasion
Yesterday, the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, pissed me off more than I'd anticipated.
I think what set me off was this piece by Alex Pareene on Joe Scarborough, and the realization that the bastards got away with it, got away with calling us names, too, and now blame us for flag-waving our way into war when I was sickened by it all. Pareene dissects Scarborough well but you almost want a body blow. I remember seeing MSNBC at the time, and the American flag waving behind triumphant music and the Bush administration's chosen phrase, OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM, up front, and thinking, “This is a cable news show?” I was naive at the time. I'm so much older than that now.
I remember a few years later, in 2005 or '06, arguing with a conservative friend about Iraq, and he trotted out the usual right-wing line about whether I would put Saddam back in place if I could. I gave him a look. I said:
Would I put him back in place? Does that mean we get back all of the American soldiers killed and wounded in Iraq, and all of the Iraqis killed and wounded in Iraq? We get back the money we spent, and the prestige we lost, and the focus we lost, and we're able to spend that money and put that focus elsewhere? On our more immediate concerns and enemies? Is that what you're asking me? Would I make that trade? In a fucking second.
How did you celebrate the 10th? I got drunk and watched “No End in Sight,” Charles Ferguson's 2007 documentary, which is the best thing I've seen on our early involvement there. It's about all of the fuckups that led to present-day Iraq, which we no longer pay attention to.
What gets me each time I watch this? It's not the lies and misrepresentations that led us into war. It's not the fact that we spent a few months, rather than years, prepping for a post-war Iraq. It's not that we didn't send the troop levels the miltary wanted but sent the troop levels Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld thought we needed (SPOILER ALERT: he was wrong), and it's not the fact that ORHA, the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, the organization designed to stabilize Iraq, reported to Rumsfeld and not, say, Secretary of State Colin Powell. We could have gotten away with all of those fuckups. But then the Bushies disbanded Jay Garner's ORHA and replaced it, and him, with L. Paul Bremer's CPA, the Coalition Provisional Authority, and Bremer ordered de-Ba'athification and the disbanding of the Iraqi military. And that was that.
A few quotes from last night's viewing, which I subsequently drunk-tweeted (see what you're missing by not following me on Twitter?):
- “We're a platoon of Marines. We could certainly stop looting if that's our assigned task.” — Lt. Seth Moulton.
- “It was just henny penny the sky is falling.” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on media reports about the postwar looting in Baghdad.
- “My goodness, were there that many vases?” --Donald Rumsfield, implying that U.S. media reports on looting were greatly exaggerated; followed by laughter from the press corp.
- “Whether you were Sunni or Shiite, you were outraged about the looting.” --Nir Rosen, Iraqui journalist.
- “And what followed was this pervasive sense of lawlessness that Iraq never recovered from. Guys with guns took over.”
- “The Iraqi army was essentially standing there, waiting. They were waiting for an overture. ... No one did that.”
- “I thought we had just created a problem. We had a lot of out-of-work soldiers.”
- “I don't do quagmires.” --Donald Rumsfeld.
If you're looking for a gift for Rumsfeld, Cheney, etc., 10th anniversaries are traditionally associated with tin.
Bremer (left), taking over from Garner (right).
Jordy's Reviews: Oz, The Great and Powerful (2013)
My nephew Jordy, 11, reviews the prequel to “The Wizard of Oz,” which is currently the highest-grossing movie of the year. Comments welcome.
I’m sure you have probably heard the “'Wizard of Oz' is amazing you need to see it” lecture. It is a great, magical movie. So I came into “The Great and Powerful” with high expectations. Is the movie great and powerful?
The movie is about a greedy magician named Oscar, whose act is known as Oz: The Great and Powerful. Oz was whooshed into a magical tornado and lands in Oz. The movie, set in 1905, starts off brilliantly by adding the unique touch of not only being in black and white, but also having the camera shaped like a box, like a camera would have been back then. Then, when they land in Oz, it goes to color and widescreen. Brilliant!
Everyone in Oz thinks Oz is the great wizard who will save them from the evil wicked witch, except all he is interessted in is the great treasures of Oz. The movie is not a remake, it is a prequel.
The movie has some good plot twists, like who is really wicked.
The acting is fine. However, it’s nothing that would stand out. The movie isn’t as magical as “The Wizard of Oz,” missing songs that have gone down in history (“Somewhere over the Rainbow“), the bond between the main characters on their adventures, and some great quotes. (”There’s no place like home!") Also, there's an attack and then 5 minutes later there’s war. That’s a pacing issue right there.
Overall, it was OK. It had a good script and a great beginning but the movie wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. They are setting this up for a remake of the “Wizard of Oz.” It will need the next young Judy Garland if it comes.
Email to Jake: March 9, 2003
I sent this email to a group of friends on March 9, 2003:
Anyone been reading about the celebrity commercial wars? Martin Sheen & Co.? Liberal media articles mocking liberals. “Those know-nothing celebrities know nothing” is the gist. I've yet to hear much about the conservative response, led by former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, who, in his commerical (which I haven't seen), says the following in support of a possible war with Iraq:
When people ask, “What has Saddam done to us?” I ask, “What had the 9-11 hijackers done to us before 9-11?”
So true! We're all guilty until proven invaded.
Jake responded. Same day:
The conservatives, whose recent ascendance was led by a B-movie actor turned president, have no business complaining about “know nothing celebrities.” Same for the liberal media complaining about fellow liberals. The reason the actors are making such noise about the war has a lot to do with the shameful absence of noise coming from the democrats in Congress. My senator Hillary Clinton, for her part, went out of her way last week to reaffirm her support of Bush's war plans.
And the fact that the media themselves accept the myth of the liberal media only tilts their coverage further to the right. According to polls, a majority of Americans believe Saddam was a 9/11 co-conspirator. No evidence has been produced, but who needs evidence when a steady barrage of slanted coverage will do?
Apologies that we were all so, so right, and the others were all so, so wrong.
Email to Elin: March 2003
I sent this to my friend Elin in 2003....
How goes the war on your front? Here it's the same. The majority still favor Pres. Bush but Americans tend to rally round the president, any president, in times like these - even when we create times like these. Things will change if the war goes on too long, we create too many enemies (as we're doing), and the U.S. economy stagnates. Came across an appropriate JFK quote this morning from 1961: “The United States is neither omnipotent nor omniscient... We are only six percent of the world's population; we can't impose our will upon the other 94 percent of mankind.” Meanwhile the latest New Yorker magazine brings articles on our television coverage of the war (bordering on propaganda), W.'s lack of humility in his person or rhetoric, how the U.S. diplomatic community is viewing the war (scary line from a moderate on what's wrong with Europe: “What they're doing is listening to their public opinion, rather than leading it.”), and an article on the documents relating to Iraq's supposed nuclear program which helped pave the way for this war - even though, it turns out, they were forged. Not good. Most of my friends are against the war but then they're my friends.
Quote of the Day
“These leftist stooges for anti-American causes are always given a free pass. Isn’t it time to make them stand up and be counted for their views?”
-- Joe Scarborough, talking about Iraq War protesters in April 2003. In his piece, “MSNBC selectively remembers the Iraq War,” Alex Pareene makes sure Scarborough stands up and is counted for his views.
Further reading about the Iraq War on this site:
- Miss Me Yet? Part I
- Miss Me Yet? Part II
- Where are Iraq War movies popular?
- Tom Waits' “Day After Tomorrow”
- 'Fuck it, we're going in.'
- Movie Review: The Hurt Locker (2009)
- Movie Review: Green Zone (2010)
- Movie Review: Fair Game (2010)
- Movie Review: The Tillman Story (2010)
- Movie Review: Restrepo (2010)
The Top 10 Box Office Hits According to Variety as of March 19, 1958
I wrote the following for The Believer magazine for their April 2008 issue.
One of the most virulent opinions about movies I’ve encountered as a critic—particularly online, where everyone’s a critic—is that popularity is somehow indicative of quality. People argue this whether you slam the latest blockbuster (“Friends I know who have seen Spider-Man 3 enjoyed it,” one reader wrote), or an art-house flick they think is a blockbuster (“We are the movie goers and I hope we win with Crash,” said another). Consider it the last refuge of the inarticulate: I like what everyone likes no matter what you like. Or: 50 million Pirates of the Caribbean fans can’t be wrong.
My knee-jerk response to this is often the second-to-last refuge of the inarticulate: Well, let’s see how long it lasts. Both of us are actually gauging quality through quantity: they in ticketbuyers, me in years. I assume that Spider-Man 3, silly and effects-laden, is a diversion for our time and no other, while Crash, somber and obvious, is an admonishing finger for our time and no other, and in 50 years, if we’re still watching movies, no one is going to be watching either of these things. I also assume it’s always been thus. Take that Monday morning mantra, the weekend box office, and its counterpart 50 years ago will be filled with the relics of a by-gone era: once-popular diversions that have long since sunk from view.
So I went looking.
- The Bridge on the River Kwai
- The Brothers Karamazov
- Witness for the Prosecution
- Around the World in 80 Days
- Search for Paradise
- Raintree County
- A Farewell to Arms
- Paths of Glory
- ...And God Created Woman
Whoops. Of the 10 films, I knew eight; I’d seen four; I loved two. These were films admired in their day (30 Academy Award nominations,12 wins, including two for best picture) and admired in ours (three rank on IMDb.com’s top 250 list).
Some of that familiarity is misleading. We mostly know A Farewell to Arms and The Brothers Karamazov because of Hemingway and Dostoevsky. I couldn’t have told you who starred in the former (Rock Hudson), and I only knew the latter because it includes the screen debut of William Shatner and I was once a big “Star Trek” fan.
Eight of the 10, in fact, are based on novels and plays. The most popular story-telling medium of its time (movies) was fending off attacks from its eventual usurper (TV) by relying on the very forms it usurped (novels and plays). Nice.
That fight against TV is all over this list. Everything here is what TV couldn’t be: big and colorful and exotic. Cinemascope and Technicolor abound. There’s almost a competition to see how long they can keep us in our seats and away from our sets: Karamazov is 145 minutes long, Arms 152, Kwai 161, and Raintree 168. Around the World in 80 Days, including overture and exit music, lasts 181 minutes.
Here come the epics
But is there anything worse than an epic that isn’t? A Farewell to Arms (#7) was producer David O. Selznick’s last film, and while he strove for another Gone with the Wind—it takes 30 seconds for the title to scroll imperiously across the screen—he wound up with a sticky melodrama that inverses Bogart’s Casablanca equation: the problems of two people are all that matters, while the crazy, mixed-up world, including, you know, World War I, doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Selznick’s wife, Jennifer Jones, 38 years old and looking older, is miscast as the 21-year-old British nurse, while the presence of Rock Hudson, our most famously closeted movie star, adds unintentional irony. “Shut up about dames,” he says early in the picture. Later, when his dying wife gives him permission to see other women, he stutters, “I – I don’t want them.” The clues were there.
Raintree County (#6) was another epic love story set against the backdrop of war (U.S. Civil), and it, too, starred a famously closeted actor (Montgomery Clift), and while it’s not a good film it’s saved from insufferability by Clift. The story involves that Hollywood staple, the love triangle: virginal Eva Marie Saint loves Clift who loves Elizabeth Taylor, who’s southern and mad in the creepy way of Southern Gothic: think racial confusion and burning homes. Give credit, though. Three years after the Montgomery busy boycott, and a year after Little Rock, and it’s the only film in the top 10 raising any kind of racial issues.
We get another love triangle in The Brothers Karamazov (#2): virginal Claire Bloom loves Yul Bryner who loves Maria Schell, Maximillian’s sister, who packs a sexual wallop with one smile. Oddly, in that virginal decade, both virgins lose their men. We wanted what we weren’t. The existence of God is overtalked—as is the golden raintree in Raintree, and love love love in Arms—and eventually His existence is proven through the devil in Albert Salmi. Because if the devil exists...
Search for Paradise (#5), unavailable on home video, is essentially a travelogue, and so is Around the World in 80 Days (#4), surelyone of the most boring Oscar winners for best picture. The Bridge over the River Kwai (#1), which remained atop the box office for weeks after it won its Oscar for best picture in March 1958, holds up much better. Its theme is the madness of war. Who’s more mad? Col. Saito for not following the rules of the Geneva Convention or Col Nicholson for adhering to the rules too much? The story is like aikido. Nicholson defeats Saito not by opposing his demand to build a bridge but by building it better and stronger than Saito imagined. He unmans him by making him irrelevant. Eventually, yes, Nicholson loses sight of the proper goal but you see the logic in his madness.
Col. Nicholson, before the lessons in akido.
The shorter, better films
Excepting Kwai, these epics, so indicative of their time, pale next to the smaller films on the list. Cowboy (#9) is a solid Delmer Daves western about a Chicago hotel clerk (Jack Lemmon) who joins a tough cattleman (Glenn Ford) on the trail. During the ride each becomes more like the other. “I have to laugh,” Ford’s right-hand man tells him. “You made this fellow tough. Now you don’t like what you made.”
...And God Created Woman (#10) is the infamous 1956 French film, dubbed for American audiences, in which Brigette Bardot appears briefly, glancingly nude. It was condemned by the Catholic Church’s Legion of Decency, which guaranteed a stampede to the box office, but by modern standards it’s rather tame. The bigger shock is that it’s not an exploitation film; it’s almost cinema verite. Bardot plays Juliete, an impulsive, selfish free spirit straining against the confines of what her community allows (and her dress). She’s in love with the wrong guy, she marries a different wrong guy, etc. “That girl is made to destroy men,” says one older (and undestroyed) man. According to the April 2, 1958 Variety, Dallas police shut down a showing of the film at The Forest, “a colored house,” even though it had played in white theaters in the city. Their unofficial explanation? “It’s too exciting for colored folk.” The fact that Ms. Bardot danced with members of a black band near the end of the film probably didn’t help.
Witness for the Prosecution (#3) is the first of two films I love on this list. It has great acting (Charles Laughton), a good story and witty dialogue (from Agatha Christie) and good direction (Billy Wilder). It’s the only courtroom thriller on the list, but in the 10 films we are shown four trials, and, interestingly, the only defendant who’s found innocent, Tyrone Power in Prosecution, is guilty. The defendants in the other movies, all innocent, are condemned to death.
Finally, there’s Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (#8), brilliant in a brisk 87 minutes. It’s our fourth war picture here, and while these pictures all view war tragically (men die, go mad, lovers are torn asunder), Glory is the only one whose critique is systemic. The movie starts with a bad idea: capturing the Ant Hill from the Germans. Everyone knows it’s a bad idea but via the carrot of promotion (for Gen. Mireau) and the stick of exclusion (for Col. Dax), it’s put into play. Despite the efforts of the soldiers, many of whom die, it fails. So who to blame for this failure? Three soldiers, chosen at random, are put on trial and executed. Even when the unsympathetic Gen. Mireau gets his comeuppance, it’s not satisfying, for we know he’s a pawn, too. The bad idea came from elsewhere. From Gen. Boulard? No. It just appeared, this bad idea. Like all bad ideas.
Put different commanders in the place of Saito and Nicholson in Kwai and the ending is different, because the ending is dictated by the faults in the characters. Put different commanders in the place of Gen. Mireau and Col. Dax in Glory and you get the same result, because the ending is dictated by the faults within the system. No wonder it resonates. Bad ideas are still handed down from who knows where; they’re still put into play; soldiers still die.
Col. Dax, the hero, and another pawn in the game.
What the survey says
If the purpose of this article was to create an Ozymandias-likewarning to moviemakers and moviegoers—your current glories will be lone and level sands stretching far away—I failed. In fact, I demonstrated the opposite. Even in a random week in an unremarkable year, some works stand taller 50 years later.
I also didn’t fail. Compare the 1958 films with our most recent mid-March weekend box office list (March 16-18, 2007):
- Wild Hogs
- Dead Silence
- I Think I Love My Wife
- Bridge to Terabithia
- Ghost Rider
- Music and Lyrics
It reads like a McDonald’s menu. Is anything healthy here? Well, Zodiac, David Fincher’s realistic take on the real-life serial killer in late 1960s San Francisco, and Bridge to Terabithia, a good kids' story about love and death and imagination. But that’s it. Everything else is disposable, infantile, loutish. The one “war movie,” 300, revels in its violence. We don’t debate the existence of God and the Devil; we give them bad lines. (Peter Fonda in Ghost Rider.) Comic books rather than novels and plays are the adaptation of choice. Love triangles still abound, as in Norbit and I Think I Love My Wife, but now, in our whoreish decade, it’s the dull virginal ones who win. We want what we aren’t.
Hollywood in 1958 tried to show us how big the world was but these recent movies feel stunted. Watch Bridge on the River Kwai and you get the feeling that beyond the Sri Lankan forest the world keeps going. Watch 300 and you get the feeling that beyond these players the world doesn’t exist at all. As it doesn’t. It’s all green screen.
There were tons of forgettable films in 1958, by the way, they just tended not to make top 10 lists. Movies rolled out differently then, playing city to city, and Variety lets us know how they’re doing around the country: “‘Cattle Empire,’ nice in Chi, is sluggish in Omaha and mild in Minneapolis. ... ‘Sing Boy Sing’ is okay in St. Louis...” These were niche pictures that stayed in niche markets. National pictures, adult pictures, movies that tried to say something about what we were as a country or who we were as a people, wound up playing nationally. We do the opposite today. The niche pictures—horror, comic book, urban comedy—get spread all over the country, while the national pictures, adult pictures, rarely play beyond the niche market of art houses.
How did we get here? The lead story in the March 5, 1958 Variety, reassuring filmmakers that film had a future and it was called the baby boom, begins this way:
If it’s true what the surveys say, that it’s primarily the young people who make up the motion picture audience today, then Hollywood has cause for optimism.
If it’s true what the surveys say... That qualification is almost heartbreaking. Today, that thought about young people is gospel. Beyond it, it’s as if the world doesn’t exist at all.
The stylized violence of “300.”
There's Big Money in Fantasy
In 1940, Look magazine did a feature on Jerry Siegel, Joe Schuster, and their new comic book creation “Superman,” whom Look calls “An imaginary man popped out of an imaginary planet.” But I mainly love the subhed there: The part that begins “New Comic Strip Hero Proves...” and ends with the title of the post:
As Jolson said, “Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You ain't heard nothing yet.”
- How Groucho Marx's son Andy helped save “You Bet Your Life” from death.
- Going Fonzie: Imgur imagines guns in famous movie scenes replaced by a thumbs up. I think my favorite might be from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.”
- Nine of the 10 “saddest” states in the U.S. vote Republican. Coincidence?
- Nathaniel Rogers has a series, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” in which he and other critics choose their favorite still shot from the same film. Then he puts them in narrative order. Here are the results for “The Wizard of Oz.” More recently, everyone took screen shots of “Barbarella.” Kind of points up the superiority of “Wizard of Oz,” doesn't it?
- Richard Sandomir with a piece in The New York Times about the fall and fall of the New York Yankees in 1965 and '66. Glory days. Will they return?
- Remember Barbara Hershey in “The Natural”? The woman she was based on, Ruth Steinhagen, who shot former Cubs first baseman Eddie Waittkus in her motel room in 1949, died recently in Chicago. Key line: “When he went to the Phillies, that's when she decided to kill him.”
- Alex Pareene eviscerates the Sunday morning political shows. They should all be running for cover but they have no shame. They are teflon.
- Webmaster and slinger Tim Harrison's comic strip “Cloud Five” has recently focused on clinical depression. You know how hard it is to do that and be true and funny? Tim pulls it off.
- A.O. Scott on “Philip Roth: Unmasked.” I am so there. Which is apparently in front of my TV set, tuned to PBS, on March 29.
- Adam Gopnik celebrates Roth's 80th birthday with words. But no one mentions Roth's best, “The Ghost Writer”? Are they all mad? Am I? Is Zuckerman? Am I Zuckerman? I was once, you know.
- I'm 50 years old, not a bad writer and editor, but only one man has ever hired me full-time for those talents: Steve Kaplan, a true mensch. Kevin Featherly captures the man, the mensch, the Minnesota Law & Politics legend.
“I turn sentences around. That's my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around.” — E.I. Lonoff
Kirk, Spock, and Mad
While searching for a good image to go with the recent post about MAD magazine's movie parodies, I came across this shot on the set of the original “Star Trek”:
How cool is that? Can anyone figure out the episode they were shooting? Tim?
Trailer of the Day: 'A La Merveille'
When I listed off my concerns about the trailer for Terrence Malick's “To the Wonder” the other day, my friend Dave, a fellow Malick lover, who was also worried that Malick was becoming a parody of himself, suggested I check out the French trailer, which he liked more:
Even the title is better in French: “A la Merveille.” According to Dave, the movie's working title was “The Burial.”
Sarah Palin, Big Gulp, and Freedom in America
Apparently Sarah Palin showed up at CPAC today and talked guns and gun racks, and took swipes at both Mitt Romney and Pres. Obama, and then, for the coup de grace, and displaying all of her wit, brought out a Big Gulp and took a sip.
The use of right-wing food props immediately reminded me of Greg Stillson, the politician on a road to the presidency (and nuclear destruction) in Stephen King's 1979 novel, “The Dead Zone,” who, with a U.S. decal on his hard hat, threw hot dogs to the enthusastic crowds at his rallies:
“Hot dogs for every man, woman and child in America! And when you put Greg Stillson in the House of Representatives, you gonna say HOT DOG! SOMEONE GIVES A RIP AT LAST!”
I'm not the first to make the Palin/Stillson connection, either. “Around my house,” Mr. King toldSalon.com in 2008, “we kinda laugh when Sarah Palin comes on TV, and we say, 'That's Greg Stillson as a woman.'”
The 32-oz. Big Gulp, in case you missed it, is a swipe at NYC's Mayor Bloomberg, who has attempted to limit, in restaurants and theaters, and for health reasons, the size of sugary drinks to 16 ounces or less. Jon Stewart among others has objected. I believe Stewart used the same prop as Palin. Is this the first thing the two have ever agreed on? Expect a mash-up.
Besides, didn't a judge strike down the Mayor's initiative earlier this week? But Palin wasn't going to give up a good prop when she had one.
Here's the bigger point. Yesterday, before a movie at Regal Cinemas in downtown Seattle, I got unaccountably thirsty and went to the refreshment stand to buy a soda. I just wanted a little, not much.
Me: What's the smallest soda you have?
Underpaid Regal employee: 32 ounces.
That's the small. But the employee was nice enough to sell me the kids' size, which is a mere 16 ounces. Which is still about twice what I wanted.
But that's freedom in America. You have the freedom to buy whatever the corporation is selling—for whatever reason it wants to sell it that way—without interference from the government.
Movie Review: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)
A horrible man, Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell), performs an awful, cheesy magic act and audiences love it for decades. An even more horrible man, Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), performs an awful, masochistic act, in which he actually inflicts pain on himself, and he steals away Burt’s fickle audience. Humbled and broke, Burt spirals toward bottom, learns humility, meets his mentor (Alan Arkin), reteams with the partner he dismissed (Steve Buscemi), gets the beautiful girl he dissed (Olivia Wilde), and together all four win back the audience by literally drugging them. Audience members were dupes before and now they’re doped.
Some kind of lesson there about what Hollywood thinks of us.
There are a few laughs in “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.” Maybe 10. Maybe.
I like the early, good-natured reaction shots from the overly good-natured Anton Marvelton (Buscemi). I like the last absurdly masochistic trick of Steve Gray. Alan Arkin can turn dull lines into something wonderful while Olive Wilde is something nice to look at.
Otherwise I was bored. Otherwise it was gags like this:
- Burt takes a beautiful fan into his bedroom.
- From outside we hear her say, “Oh my god, it’s huge.”
- We cut inside where she’s looking at his bed, which is big.
Director Don Scardino is mostly a director of TV sitcoms. It shows. One of the main screenwriters, Jonathan M. Goldstein, is mostly a writer of TV sitcoms, while the other, John Francis Daley, played the lead in the acclaimed TV sitcom “Freaks and Geeks.”
Do we care that the chronology is off? In the beginning we see Burt as a kid being picked on—ironically by Zachary Gordon, star of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”—in 1982. Which means Burt and Anton were born in … 1972? For Carell and Buscemi? Who were born in ’62 and ’57 respectively? As adults, their act takes off and they wind up on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, who retired in 1992. So when they were 20? I guess? Even though they look like they look now? Does anyone care what fucking year it is anymore?
By the time they’re fixtures on the Vegas stage, with tans, hairdos and sequined outfits out of Siegfried & Roy, Burt, the sweet kid, has already morphed into a major pompous asshole. He stays that way for more than half the movie. It’s not funny. He also hates their magic act because it’s the same, the same, the same, yet he refuses to change it until it’s too late; until his “show business” is usurped by Steve Gray’s “reality.”
Do we read the movie as a Hollywood metaphor? Burt Wonderstone is the old cheesy TV show, Steve Gray is the masochism of reality TV, and the old hands are trying to figure out ways to win back their dopey audience.
“I don’t enjoy any of this shit,” says Vegas hotel owner Doug Munny (James Gandolfini), channeling me.
Quote of the Day
“MAD [magazine] has never been successfully sued, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying. The magazine once received a letter from Lucasfilm’s legal department after their Empire Strikes Back parody, demanding that they recall all printed copies of the issue and destroy them. MAD replied by sending a copy of another letter they had received the previous month—from George Lucas, offering to buy the original artwork for the Empire parody and comparing Mort Drucker to Leonardo Da Vinci and the parody’s writer, Dick De Bartolo, to Mark Twain. They never heard from Lucasfilm’s legal department again.”
-- Grady Hendrix in his article, “Cahiers du CinéMAD,” about the history of MAD magazine's movie parodies, in Film Comment. Here's a Wiki list of MAD's film spoofs. The first I remember is “A Crockwork Lemon.”
Two panels from MAD's 1977 parody of “Star Wars.”
My Pharmacy, My Insurance Co., and Me
Here's a story of modern inconvenience.
Eighteen months ago I was diagnosed with something called subacute thyroiditis, which, after a year, necessitated taking a thyroid supplement every day: levothyroxine sodium. Num.
My pharmacy parceled this out in 30-day supplies. After several months I asked, “Can't I just get this in a 90-day supply? So I don't have to come here all the time and bug you guys?” The prescription was in fact written for a 90-day supply but I was told my insurance company didn't allow it. I made a mental note to contact them. Or it.
It contacted me first: an old-fashioned letter in which I was admonished for going with three 30-day supplies instead of one 90-day supply, which it preferred. The letter included this warning:
If you fill another 30-day supply of your long-term medications without contacting us first, you will pay the full cost of your medications.
Ah, an old-fashioned showdown. But before calling the insurance company, I called the pharmacy to double-check my facts. Good thing. Apparently I'd misunderstood or been misinformed. The problem wasn't my insurance company; it was my pharmacy's supplier, United Drug. The pharmacy rep told me, “We're not contracted to do a 90-day supply [with United Drug].” She didn't really know the reason why. That's just the way it was.
So I called my insurance company to apprise them of the situation and ask if there were pharmacies in the area that were contracted for 90-day supplies. The rep I spoke with didn't really know. He was nice enough, though. As was everyone in this story. Even me.
Anyway, an annoying flake of modern life. My doctor, my pharmacy, and my insurance company all want me to have a 90-day supply of a drug to keep me healthy, but United Drug, a company I didn't even know existed until the other day, has, for reasons unknown, blocked our efforts. Here is its website. And this is what it says about itself on its website:
Our ambition is to be a dynamic, leading international healthcare services company, fostering enhanced patient outcomes through partnerships with healthcare manufacturers, government agencies, providers and payors
Quote of the Day
“Louie Gohmert is not just a nutjob — he is a singularly useless and unaccomplished nutjob. The man has been in the House of Representatives since 2005 and in all that time all he’s done is generate hundreds of outraged blog posts.
”Gohmert is the perfect spokesperson for the modern conservative movement, because his Congressional record is made up of an endless series of inflammatory, stupid and outrageous public statements, instead of any legislative accomplishments whatsoever. He has done nothing at all since he arrived in Washington besides repeatedly say degrading and insulting things about gay people and Muslims and immigrants. He doesn’t really seem to take any issue remotely seriously and has no apparent interest in actually advancing conservative policy goals. He’s done nothing for conservative causes beyond rile up liberals and repel sensible people.
“At CPAC he is Elvis.”
-- Alex Pareene, in the article, “Louie Gohmert treated like rock star at CPAC.” The piece also has maybe the best subhed ever written: “Longtime crank with no actual accomplishments very beloved at conservative conference.”
Trailer of the Day: Terrence Malick's 'To the Wonder'
Is the style overly familiar now? The images? The wheat fields and water and waves?
Or is it the theme?
This is the voiceover narration we hear from Javier Bardem, broken down:
- You shall love, whether you like it or not.
- Emotions, they come and go like clouds. Love is not only a feeling; you show love.
- To love is to run the risk of failure, the risk of betrayal.
- You fear your love has died; perhaps it is waiting to be transformed into something higher.
- Awaken the divine presence which sleeps in each man, each woman.
- Know each other in that love that never changes.
I like the first line, particularly the implied threat in it.
Another site has the second line ending with “You shall love,” which is a repetition of the first sentiment, but I thought he said you show love. It's not just a feeling, in other words; there's action involved. It's something, you could add, you can't hide. Another implied threat.
3. is obvious. Not a fan of 3.
4. is where I fear I am sometimes. Nice thought at the end, though. Wish fulfillment?
The last two lines connect the human and the divine through love. The messy human component, with its failures and betrayals and fadings (per “Annie Hall”), is a mere flake of the divine, absolute, unchanging love of God. We just deal with it poorly. We render it less than absolute, less than divine. But know it to be divine.
That seems to be what we're getting here. I'd like to agree. But I'm stuck on 4.
Opening limited April 12.
Oz, 32-Percent Great, 40th-Most Powerful
A quick note on the opening-weekend box office of “Oz, the Great and Powerful”:
- It grossed $79 million in the U.S.
- That's the 40th-biggest opening weekend ever, unadjusted.
- It's the biggest opening weekend since “The Hobbit” ($84 million in December) and “Skyfall” ($88 million in November).
- Only two movies that opened in March had bigger openings: “The Hunger Games” last year ($152m) and “Alice in Wonderland” in 2010 ($116 million).
- Critics were ho-hum on it. It squeaked into fresh territory with a 61% Rotten Tomatoes rating. But among top critics? Just 32%.
- You could easily make a triple feature in hell from some of the 39 movies that opened bigger than “Oz.” Say, “Spider-Man 3” ($151m in 2007), “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” ($142m in 2009), and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” ($100m in 2008). And I still have in reserve all of the “Pirates of the Carribean” sequels.
Now does this mean I have to go see it? Vinny?
A Good Sign for 'Man of Steel'
Here's a complaint I had about the movie “District 9” back in 2009:
Writer-director Neill Blomkamp wants the aliens to be a despised minority so that’s what they become. And that’s all they become. Despite the fact that they’re aliens and—I can’t stress this enough—the existence of aliens changes everything. It’s a Copernicus moment. ...
Does the aliens’ existence change the religions of the world, or our various views of God, in whose image we are supposedly made? Apparently not. Does it alter the U.N.? Foreign relations? Our planetary defense systems? Nope. The only thing that happens, apparently, is the ho-hum, the paperwork, the disgusted shake of the head that these creatures live in our midst.
Here's something I wrote in 2007 about the helicopter-rescue scene in “Superman: The Movie”:
The crowd below — prodding us, the theater audience — breaks into applause too easily. A flying man? Who can grab a helicopter effortlessly? They should be stunned into silence. Instead they react as if someone just hit an 8th inning homerun.
And here is David S. Goyer, who wrote the screenplay for the upcoming “Man of Steel,” in the March 2013 issue of Empire magazine:
It just struck me that if Superman really existed in the world, first of all this story would be a story about first contact. He's an alien. You can easily imagine a scenario in which we'd be doing a film like “E.T.” [hunting him down] as opposed to him running around in tights. If the world found out he existed, it would be the biggest thing that ever happened in human history.
That's a good sign, and it's borne out in the trailer and in the poster (below).
Apparently the first glimmer for this project began when Goyer was stuck on what became “The Dark Knight Rises,” which he then ignored for a week to indulge a fascination with Superman. And he came up with this concept.
Another good sign? “Intriguingly,” Ian Nathan of Empire writes, “the film's biggest secret seems to surround good-old Clark Kent—formerly Superman's befuddled, bespectacled alter-ego. Coud it be here where the mythos is getting its biggest shake-up?”
Could it? I hope this means he doesn't become a reporter at The Daily Planet. Because who in their right mind becomes a reporter in 2013?
Apparently an alien with superpowers won't be greeted with applause and huzzahs in “Man of Steel”
Movie Review: The Monk (2011)
For half the movie we’re wondering: Is it “the devil is a woman” or is it just the devil? The answer disappoints. Me anyway.
Vincent Cassel plays Capucin Ambrosio, who, as a baby, was left at the doorstep of a monastery in 16th-century Spain. The title graphic, “1595,” intrigues on its own when you consider that, for most movies, 1979 is ancient history. (The source material, by the way, is a gothic novel first published in 1796 by Matthew G. Lewis, Esq., who was not yet 20 years old. It’s been filmed twice before: in 1972 starring Franco Nero; and in 1990 starring Paul McGann. We get a new version every 20 years, basically.)
Groupie? Snake? Gateway drug?
The movie opens with Ambrosio in the confessional telling a penitent, a man known only as Le Débauché (Sergi Lopez), that “Satan only has the power we give him.” Turns out Le Débauché has given Satan much power. He talks of falling, again and again. He talks of sleeping with his niece several times a day. “What an exquisite abyss,” he says with wonder in his voice. He seems to be enjoying his confession. Ambrosio is not amused. His eyes get darker and spookier. This is Vincent Cassel, after all.
At this point, Ambrosio is something of a local legend. He is a firmly devout man who is able to communicate his faith, and the glory of God, to others. “His faith is so alive it swept my heart away,” says one supplicant, Antonia (Joséphine Japy), who faints after a sermon. We can’t help notice she’s pretty.
Then we follow several storylines:
- Ambrosio’s mentor is dying, and warns of great evil all around.
- A boy in a mask, a burn victim who has lost his parents, Valerio, asks to join the monastery. “I want to withdraw from the world and be closer to God,” he says. The other monks are doubtful and fearful; Ambrosio lets him in.
- A nun visiting Ambrosio’s confessional drops a note indicating an illicit relationship. She begs understanding but Ambrosio gives her up. “Instead of fleeing punishment,” he tells her, “you should yearn for it.” She gets it. Pregnant, she’s imprisoned by L’abesse (Geraldine Chaplin) until she starves to death. She blames Ambrosio for her fate.
- Antonia is courted by a handsome noble but her mother, Elvire (Catherine Mouchet), haunted by her own past, is doubtful.
We wonder how these stories will come together. Antonia’s, in particular, seems to have no relation to Ambrosio’s. Until it does.
The mentor dies, the nun dies, Valerio is revealed to be a girl (Deborah Francois of “Les tribulations d'une caissière”), who wants to be closer, not to God, but to Ambrosio. Is she an early version of a groupie? She asks for a rose from his garden before he sends her away, but as he reaches for it a scorpion bites him and poisons him. Near death, Valerio arrives and … Does she suck the poison out? Does she make love to him? Both? He lives, realizing he’s sinned, then sins again. She’s less groupie than the snake who has entered his Garden of Eden. But is she the snake?
The world turns dark. A fellow monk, about to finger Ambrosio for his infidelity, is killed by a fallen gargoyle. When Ambrosio investigates on the roof of the monastery, he realizes, as do we, that he’s living through a moment he’s dreamed about several times. Over the parapet, on the ground, he sees a woman in a red cloak praying in the baking sun. In his dream he reaches for her but can’t touch her. Now he does. It’s Antonia. She wants him to console her mother, who is dying and haunted by her past. He does. But now he’s haunted by his present and Antonia.
Rebuffed, Valerio offers Ambrosio a further temptation: a floral aphrodisiac, or organic date-rape drug, with which to seduce Antonia. He takes it, takes her, and the two of them, naked, are discovered by Elvire, who recognizes the birthmark on Ambrosio’s shoulder as the birthmark of the baby she gave up. Ambrosio is her child! And he’s sleeping with his sister! But before Elvire can say anything, Ambrosio wakes, walks up to her, and kills her. His mother.
By this point, yeah, I’d lost interest.
Why Satan should stay on the sidelines
While Ambrosio is worth watching in his moral rectitude, he’s not at all interesting in his fall—or in how he falls. It’s an unfair fight, really. Throughout I kept wondering what sexual release 17th-century monks had. None? How impossible. And to then have Satan gang up on you? Poison you and entice you with beautiful French girls? Speaking for men, we have little shot even if Satan stays on the sidelines. Once he gets into the game, it’s over.
The interesting battle, in other words, is internal, not external. The interesting foe is within, not without.
“The Monk” (“Le Moine”), directed by Dominik Moll (“With a Friend Like Harry…”), is beautifully photographed by Patrick Blossier, who juxtaposes the cool monastery with the white-hot, baked surroundings. As always, Vincent Cassel is a force, here mostly held in check. Joséphine Japy has a delicate beauty. But I’m not a fan of gothic anything.
After his trial but before his death, Satan finally appears before Ambrosio. He’s Le Débauché, from the beginning, who throws Ambrosio’s own words back at him: “Satan only has the power we give him.” Then a final deal is struck. Antonia has gone mad (her rapist is her brother who kills their mother) and Ambrosio sells his eternal soul to make her well and happy. One wonders: Is this redemption for Ambrosio, since it’s the ultimate sacrifice? Or is it the final step in Ambrosio’s fall, since his eternal soul belongs to Satan? At which point, black birds, who pecked at the baby Ambrosio at the doorstep of the monastery, pick at the remains of the grown man, dead in the desert.
So probably the latter.
-- March 10, 2013
Justice League: Ginsburg on Rehnquist, Roberts
“Ginsburg's frustrations have grown over the years. She got along well with William Rehnquist, the late Chief Justice ... 'I was very fond of the old Chief,' Ginsburg told me. As for his successor, Roberts, Ginsburg offered this faint praise: 'For the public, I think the current Chief is very good at meeting and greeting people, always saying the right thing for the remarks he makes for five or ten minutes at various gatherings.'”
-- from “Heavyweight: How Ruth Bader Ginsburg has moved the Supreme Court,” by Jeffrey Toobin, in the March 11, 2013 New Yorker. A slideshow of Justice Ginsburg can be found on the New Yorker's site here. The article itself is only excerpted—another reason, as if you need it, to subscribe to The New Yorker. Great stuff on her feminist victories before the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1970s, her views of the judicial process (best to move slowly and carefully), and why she was ultimately against Roe v. Wade (it didn't move slowly or carefully, and thus allowed enemies to gather). Apparently she's a favorite of Pres. Obama (another conservative liberal). But will she retire before his term ends in 2017, allowing him to appoint a successor? Is the party of the president even relevant when deciding to leave the Supreme Court? “I think it is for all of us,” she says.
- The Chuck Hagel confirmation was a while back but I never saw this post on the 538 site until a few days ago. Generally, Defense Secretaries get 90 or more votes in their confirmation; Hagel got 58. Put it this way: the most amount of “Nay” votes for a confirmed Defense Secretary (John Tower didn't make the cut) was for Casper Weinberger back in 1981. Just two. Hagel got 41. All Republicans. It's a partisan vote but the naysayers are from Hagel's own party.
- My friend Ben had his head operated on in late January to relieve a facial convulsion. There were complications. Now he's blogging about it. Please read.
- Linda Greenhouse in the New York Times assumes the U.S. Supreme Court will rule a major provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. “Years from now,” she writes, “when the Supreme Court has come to its senses, justices then sitting will look back on the spring of 2013 in bewilderment. On what basis, they will wonder, did five conservative justices, professed believers in judicial restraint, reach out to grab the authority that the framers of the post-Civil War 14th and 15th Amendments had vested in Congress ...” (Emphasis mine.) She also takes to task Justices Scalia (for his sarcasm) and Roberts (for his suspect statistics).
- This is pretty damn funny: The comic strip “Unshelved.”
- One of my favorite actors is joining the cast of one of my favorite shows. So nice when that happens.
- That Chris Stark interview of Mila Kunis that everyone loves? Most love Kunis. The New Yorker applauds Stark.
- I've ragged on Jeff Wells in the past—he has a tendency to prejudge movies, then sticks to his guns to sometimes-absurd lengths—but he's right about “The Searchers.” It's not that great.
- Wells also directed me to this Economist article on the economic state of the movie industry. It's not all “Avengers.” I'm particularly intrigued by the graph showing rentals and sales in home entertainment switching positions since 1998: sales dominated the market back then; now it's rentals. We're not an ownership society anymore. This has its advantages. Less stuff to take to the dump, for one.
- Did you know there's a tumblr site that displays screenshots before the special effects were added? It's called BeforeFX (appropriately) and it's got some cool ones, such as Harvey Dent acting Two-Face but with a full face. Mostly, though, it's got a lot of green: the green screen that leads to green. P.S. Shouldn't they juxtapose the BeforeFX shot with the AfterFX shot? Or is that a different Tumblr site?
- In the interest of full disclosure: that screen crush post from earlier in the week? I realized I left out two recent crushes: Carey Mulligan and Mia Wasikowska. Here they are (third from left, fourth from right) on that annual “hot actresses” Vanity Fair cover, this one from 2010:
Third from left, fourth from right.
“Anyway, I decided, if there was anything the human race had a sufficiency of, a sufficiency and a surfeit, it was books. When I thought of the cataracts of books, the Niagras of books, the rushing rivers of books, the oceans of books, the tons and truckloads and trainloads of books that were pouring off the presses of the world at the moment, only a very few of which would be worth picking up and looking at, let alone reading, I began to feel that it was admirable that he hadn't written it. One less book to clutter up the world, one less book to take up space and catch dust and go unread from bookstore to homes to second-hand bookstores and junk stores and thrift shops to still other homes to still other second-hand bookstores and junk stores and thrift shops to still other homes ad infinitum.”
-- Joseph Mitchell, “Joe Gould's Secret.”
Joseph Mitchell, author of “Joe Gould's Secret”
Trailer of the Day: Average Party
So not a real movie.
I actually think this kind of thing would work for a studio comedy now and again. Or once. Play to the reality of the situation rather than the wish-fulfillment fantasy. Satirize the genre without buying into the tropes of the genre for the second half of the film—a la “The Other Guys” and “21 Jump Street.” But that would take risk and imagination. Artists want to make the new; businessmen want to make what's made money.
Quote of the Day
“So it turns out that the thesis here is 'Washington is obsessed with the deficit debate but we need to focus on the jobs crisis,' which is basically a Paul Krugman column, except [Peggy Noonan's version is] the insane version where the reason we are having a tax showdown is because Barack Obama is obsessed with inflicting misery on Pittsburgh because he hates Republicans. Got it. Thanks, Peggy.”
-- Alex Pareene, “Celebrated author, speechwriter and columnist Peggy Noonan: Obama made Pittsburgh depressing because he did not pass a stimulus bill,” on Salon.com. It's pretty funny and awful. But Peggy Noonan is pretty funny and awful.
Invasion USA: Two Lois Lanes, No Superman
One recent afternoon, going link to link on IMDb.com, I landed on the page for “Invasion USA” (1952). (“It will scare the pants off you!” ... Hedda Hopper) I was intrigued because that's also the title of a truly awful Chuck Norris movie from the Reagan-era 1980s. I wondered if this film, from the most frigid part of the Cold War, was its predecessor. Seems so. From IMDb's synopsis:
A group of people at a bar witness the unfolding events of a Soviet invasion of the USA.
It's also apparently worse than the Norris film. It has a miniscule 2.3 IMDb rating (Norris' film is at 4.8), and it's the butt on an entire MST3K program. That takes doing.
So why am I writing about it? I noticed that both 1950s-era Lois Lanes are in it. Noei Neill plays “Second Airline Ticket Agent” (although “First Airline Ticket Agent” doesn't make the cast list), while Phyllis Coates, higher billed, plays Mrs. Mulfory. The female lead is Peggy Castle, who mostly made B-pictures. Gerald Mohr is the lead. “War or no war,” he says in the trailer, “people have to eat and drink ... Or make love.” Then he grabs Ms. Castle and plants one.
Edward G. Robinson, Jr., son of, has a bit part as a radio dispatcher. It's his first screen role. He was in 23 pictures and died in 1973 at the age of 40. There's a million sad stories on IMDb.
I was hoping the two Lois Lanes had a scene together but it doesn't look like it. Neill is in this clip in which she has to tell a woman that Gardner Field, Montana, where she hopes to join her husband and children, has been attacked by an A-bomb. “All flights to Gardner Field have been discontinued ... permanently.”
Here's the trailer. SEE ... NEW YORK DISAPPEAR! SEE ... SEATTLE BLASTED! And don't miss the Peter Lorre-type trying to foment revolution against the boss until the U.S. Army comes through the door!
Two Lois Lanes but no Superman. No wonder the USA was invaded.
“All flights to Gardner Field have been discontinued ... permanently.”
Quote of the Day
“This is the biggest sin. This is the best kid that ever lived. Without him, there would've been no Superman.”
-- Director Richard Donner in the DVD commentary for “Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut.” He's initially talking about what a sin it is that produced Alexander and Ilya Salkind cheapened their product; but then the film's dedication to Christopher Reeve comes up and he alludes to the real sin of Christopher Reeve having lost his life. He goes on to talk about Reeve for another five minutes.
My A-Rod Story: All That Negative Stuff
It's been a hot hot-stove league for Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who is often called A-Rod, which is just as often denigrated to A-Fraud, or A-Roid, and whom The New York Post now wishes A-Gone. Good luck with that.
Here are just some of the recent stories about A-Rod, and just from the staid New York Times:
- Rodriguez Has Hip Surgery: Yankees Expect Six-Month Recovery: Jan. 16, 2013
- Concern About Rodriguez on New Front: Yankees urge A-Rod away from previous hip doctor, Marc Philippon, who has ties to Anthony Galea, who has already pled guilty to distributing HGH among athletes: Jan. 26
- Rodriguez Linked Anew to Prohibited Drugs: Jan. 29
- Rodriguez Denails Put Yankees' Patience to Test: Jan. 29
- Yankees' Options Concerning Rodriguez's Contract Are Limited: Jan. 30
- Baseball Officials Navigate Puzzle of Anti-Aging Clinics: Feb. 1
- Steinbrenner Concerned About Drug Allegations Against Rodriguez: Feb. 8
- Alex Rodriguez to Stay Away as Yankees Report: Feb. 1
With some implying his career is suddenly over at the age of 37, I began to think about the first and only time I met the man.
It was the summer of 2000, the Seattle Mariners second full year without Randy, our first year without Junior, our last year with Alex. But we were doing well. GM Pat Gillick had put together a good squad. We'd added John Olerud, Aaron Sele, Mike Cameron, Mark McLemore, Stan Javier. Plus we still had A-Rod, Edgar, Jay Buhner, Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia. We were good again.
Surprisingly, a few of these players were talking about me. At the time, I wrote the player profiles for an alternative M's fan magazine, The Grand Salami, sold outside Safeco Field, and I was beginning to hear distant grumbles. It began with Mark McLemore, who didn't like my implication that he couldn't hit lefties. (He was right: he batted .293 against them that year). To the Salami editor, Jon Wells, utility man John Mabry quoted my mostly negative profile of him almost verbatim. But the grumbles remained distant. As a monthly, the Salami only gets one press credential per homestand, and it usually went to Jon. In June, though, he offered me the chance to interview Edgar Martinez and I leapt at it.
At the ballpark that day, I felt like the new kid at school. What's the etiquette? When is it okay to approach players? Edgar was a gentleman, the beat writers were helpful, Stan Javier was classy. I'd decided to interview not only Edgar but other players about Edgar, for a sidebar, and in this regard was most interested in getting Alex Rodriguez's comments. Not only was he the star of the team, he often commented upon Edgar's professionalism. Unfortunately, for the hours I was there, he wasn't. He only showed up in the locker room, trailing a camera crew, as we were being shooed from it. Crap, I thought, missed my chance. Then I decided, What the hell. Worst thing he can say is no.
“Hi Alex,” I said. “Erik Lundegaard, Grand Salami. We're doing a cover story on Edgar Martinez next month and I was wondering if I could ask you a couple of quick questions about him.”
He shot me a look.
“You own that book?”
“That magazine. You own it?”
“I don't own it, I write for it.”
“You the one who writes all that negative stuff?”
Uh oh, I thought, here it comes. Hey everybody, here's the guy who writes all that negative stuff! I imagined noogies from McLemore, a headlock from Jay Buhner, a Lou Piniella Indian burn.
“What negative stuff?”
“That stuff about me striking out all the time. All the good things I do and all you can write about is strikeouts?”
Inwardly I groaned. What had I written about him this past month? I couldn't remember.
“Well, normally we write nothing but positive about you. We've called you Kid Dynamite, Superman...”
“You understand, don't you?” he said. “Why should I talk to you if you write that negative stuff all the time?”
In other words, I got bupkis out of him. Later, in the pressbox, I took out the latest Salami and read Alex's profile. This is what I had written:
A-Rod's career weakness has always been plate discipline. He struck out 100+ times three of the last four seasons and never walked much. This year he's still piling up the K's (him and everybody else), but drawing so many walks he'll shatter his career high (59) by the end of June. It helps that he doesn't have The Greatest Player of the 1990s batting behind him—no pitcher this side of Paul Assenmacher wanted to walk anyone to get to Junior—but it seems that A-Rod, an astoundingly mature 24 year-old, understands better than ever the value of going deep into the count. His reward? As of this writing, he's leading the league in OBP—a blistering .489—and is a serious contender to be the first man since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to win the triple crown.
At the end of that season Alex went on the free-agent market and signed a record contract with the Texas Rangers: $252 million for 10 years. The first time he returned to Safeco Field, in late April 2001, the place was packed, and angry, in a way that Seattle baseball had never been angry. We knew we'd been robbed of something and Alex bore the brunt. I'd never heard so much abuse heaped upon one man before. Three years later, he wanted out of his contract—he couldn't stand the losing in Texas—and wound up with the New York Yankees, where, if he didn't perform, particularly in the post-season, the boos rained down on him like it was Safeco Field all over again. He went through a divorce, various scandals, many girlfriends. He was on the outs with former friend Derek Jeter, who was beloved.
I almost felt sorry for him—as much as you can feel sorry for a high-paid, superstar athlete. I used to call him the PR rep for Alex Rodriguez, Inc., because a phoniness eminated off of him and a need to please. He seemed to be aware that he was always being watched. You'd think he couldn't look at himself from the outside that way and still be as good as he was.
In 2009, Alex admitted to steroid use. But that was a comeback year for him. He had a great postseason and helped the Yankees to their 27th world championship. But he wasn't beloved. He was never beloved.
I assume he has a different perspective on negative stuff now.
Alex Rodriguez playing shortstop for the Seattle Mariners in the late 1990s. Photo courtesy of Jon Wells and The Grand Salami.
Quote of the Day
“Like so many other parents of children with special needs, I’m leading a life of many decibels of desperation. Those pictures of my son, recklessly plastered all over the social network? I’m desperate for you – for the world, really – to fall in love with him, or, at the very least, respect him, maybe even develop a sense of responsibility for all kids like him. And by kids, I mean human beings, so please don’t get wrapped up in ageism. We’re all kids, and I want the world to love mine, because someday I won’t be around to take care of him.
”Love may endure, but I don’t think my enduring love can ensure clean clothing, good food, superhero stories, and a warm, safe bed for him when I’m not around, or when my wife isn’t. We know our daughter is the best big sister he could possibly have, and she’ll step up when and if the time comes, but you know, this is a marathon that requires many people to help one person run a good race, and that’s why I post the photos. Big love is way better than no love, and too many caring hands are better than two or too little.“
-- Jerry Grillo, father and writer, in his must-read post, ”Loud, Graphic, Measured Desperation."
Trailer of the Day: The World According to Dick Cheney
Unfortunately, we don't get ShowTime, where it premieres on March 15, so we'll have to seek it out some other way. That's assuming I want to spend 90 minutes listening to Dick Cheney.
But the director is R.J. Culter, who directed “The September Issue,” and who produced “The War Room” back in 1992. Good sign.
Who's Your Current Screen Crush?
Here's a recent Twitter conversation, or “conversation,” with New York Times' film critic A.O. Scott.
First he tweeted about David Edelstein's recent New York magazine piece on Rachel Weisz:
When I asked him who his current screen crush was, he tweeted back:
Marion Cotillard in “Rust and Bone.”
'Superman,' 'Man of Steel,' and the US/UK Switcheroo
In casting Zack Snyder's upcoming “Man of Steel,” they kept flying back-and-forth across the pond. The American becomes the Brit, and the Brit the American:
- Superman, Kal-El, who was played by an American (Christopher Reeve), is now being played by a Brit (Henry Cavill).
- Superman's father, Jor-El, who was played by an American (Marlon Brando), is now being played by a Brit/Kiwi (Russell Crowe).
- Superman's nemesis, Zod, who was played by a Brit (Terrence Stamp), is now being played by an American (Michael Shannon).
Back in '78, the villains were British—as they were in “Star Wars”—because, I suppose, the Brits, even at that late day, were shorthand for “Empire.” Is that the U.S. now?
As for the Brits, they're our superheroes. The lastest incarnations of Batman (Wales, UK), Spider-Man (Surrey, UK), Thor (Melbourne, Aus.), Mr. Fantastic (Wales, UK), Charles Xavier (Port Glasgow, Scotland), Magneto (Killarney, Ireland), the Beast (Berkshire, UK), the Wolverine (Sydney, Aus.), and now Superman (Jersey, UK), are all British.
I guess America still has Iron Man (NYC) and Captain America (Boston). Not to mention Ghost Rider (Long Beach, Calif.). Which most people don't want to mention.
Here's the “Man of Steel” rundown:
Kneel before Zod! Terrence Stamp (UK) in 1978 and Michael Shannon (US) in 2013.
Jor-El (US) and Lara (UK) with baby Kal-El in 1978's “Superman”
Jor-El (New Zealand) and Lara (Israel) with baby Kal-El in 2013's “Man of Steel”
Superman (US) looking at Lois in 1978's “Superman”
Superman (UK) looking at Lois in 2013's “Man of Steel”
Moynihan's 1967 Warning to Democrats Now Applies to Republicans
I've long contended that the radicalism of the left during the 1960s is now the province of the radical right. Whereas the left used to attack the judicial system (as unfair) and the education system (as creating “citizens” rather than “individuals”), the right now attacks both for different reasons. Judges are activists, teachers are de-incentivized unionized members. To give two examples.
I thought of this shift again while reading Rick Perlstein's “Nixonland” yesterday afternoon. On pg. 395, Perlstein quotes Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat but beloved by Nixon and the right, in a speech that became known as “The Politics of Stability.” This is what Moynihan said in 1967:
Liberals [must] see more clearly that their interest is in the stability of the social order, and that given the threats to that stability, it is necessary to make more effective alliances with politcal conservatives who share that concern, and who recognize that unyielding rigidity is just as much a threat to the continuity of things as is an anarchic desire for change.
All you have to do is underline these words:
Liberals [must] see more clearly that their interest is in the stability of the social order, and that given the threats to that stability, it is necessary to make more effective alliances with politcal conservatives who share that concern, and who recognize that unyielding rigidity is just as much a threat to the continuity of things as is an anarchic desire for change.
The far right [must] see more clearly that their interest is in the stability of the social order, and that given the threats to that stability, it is necessary to make more effective alliances with politcal moderates who share that concern, and who recognize that unyielding rigidity is just as much a threat to the continuity of things as is an anarchic desire for change.
See: Fiscal Cliff, Sequestration, Obamacare, pretty much anything that's been debated in Congress since Jan. 2009.
Eric Cantor and the Tea Party practice the politics of instability.
Star Wars VII by Michael Haneke
Turns out it was shown at the 2013 Cesars, so there's our answer. Unfortunately, this fact made me less impressed with the final product. If it's shown at the Cesars, instead of just on YouTube, shouldn't this be better? Funnier? It's still good. I also like that you can swear at the Cesars and apparently not get bleeped.
I'm curious. Did they do more faux trailers for the new “Star Wars”? Directed by other famous European directors?
And a show of hands: Who's seen both “Star Wars” and “Amour”?
Photo of the Day
Hope you're having a cozy Sunday. Jellybean is.
What Liberal Hollywood? A.O. Scott on Guns and Movies
“After the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Mr. LaPierre declared that 'the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,' as pure a distillation of traditional Hollywood morality as you could want. ...
”When mass killings happen in the real world, the mark of the killer’s pathology is often described as an inability to distinguish fantasy from reality. But that is not a syndrome that afflicts only individuals. We gravitate, collectively, toward a simplified world where might makes right and good guys and bad guys are easy to tell apart.“
--A.O. Scott, from his article, ”Finding Comfort in Easy Distinctions,“ which is part of a section on movies and violence in today's New York Times.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, former governor of California, in ”The Last Stand" (2013).
In Defense of Seth MacFarlane's 'We Saw Your Boobs'
I was wrong on Oscar night. Not so much in our Oscar pool—although I lost to my nephew, Jordy, 11—but in my contention that Seth MacFarlane’s musical number “We Saw Your Boobs” was the best thing to happen to Oscar in years. I thought it was funny, aimed at dudes (the untapped demographic), and got out in front of the usual Monday-morning Oscar-hosting carping.
A lot of those attacking MacFarlane’s Oscar hosting in general, and “We Saw Your Boobs” in particular, began by admitting they were fans of MacFarlane’s work, so let me begin by saying I’m not. I’ve watched maybe 20 minutes of “Family Guy,” which is weak tea compared to “The Simpsons,” and I panned “Ted,” the blockbuster comedy from 2012. I admitted it was often funny but it made me feel unclean afterwards. It was too racist and sexist, too inured of crappy ’80 culture.
I didn’t feel that way with “We Saw Your Boobs.” I just laughed. It’s the funniest thing I’ve seen Seth MacFarlane do.
Why is it funny? E.B. White once said you can dissect humor as you can dissect a frog, but afterwards you simply have a dead frog. Well, here’s my dead frog.
I think the framing device actually sets up the joke. Others don’t. Amy Davidson, one of the harshest critics (her New Yorker post is called “Seth MacFarlane and the Oscars’ Hostile, Ugly, Sexist Night”), writes:
The song was part of a larger skit whose premise was that William Shatner, as Captain Kirk, sends MacFarlane a message from the future about the dumb things he might do while hosting the Oscars. But that premise is not an excuse.
Maybe not an excuse but definitely a set-up. Because one immediately wonders, “What could this guy do that would be so awful that Capt. Kirk would need to come back from the future to correct it?” And then we see him singing.
The joke, in other words, is on Seth MacFarlane, or “Seth MacFarlane,” the Oscar host too stupid to realize that gleefully reducing our greatest film actresses to their body parts is not something you do at an event meant to honor those very actresses.
The joke is also on men in general, who are rarely above this tendency. Seven years ago, I wrote a piece for MSNBC on famous movie kisses, which included the following:
Did Leo kiss Kate on the prow of the boat or was that just in the poster? More memorable for me are the two of them steaming up the car windows, and Leo drawing a topless Kate. It’s like what my friend Seth admitted when I asked him for kissing scenes: “I only remember the boob shots,” he said. He was only half-joking.
Seth later told me, “Half joking? I wasn’t joking at all.”
But to take this juvenile attitude … into the Academy Awards show … in a rousing song-and-dance number … well, only a moron would do it. And there’s our moron.
MacFarlane’s critics don’t see it that way. They think the joke is on the actresses. Davidson again:
The women were not showing their bodies to amuse Seth MacFarlane but, rather, to do their job. Or did they just think they were doing serious work? You girls think you’re making art, the Academy, through MacFarlane, seemed to say, but all we—and the “we” was resolutely male—really see is that we got you to undress. The joke’s on you.
This implies that MacFarlane, and not “MacFarlane,” actually meant it. Haw haw on Meryl Streep, Halle Berry and Kate Winslet. We saw your titties. Which leaves the joke exactly where? Nowhere. It wouldn’t be funny. No wonder Davidson and others aren’t laughing.
But to me that’s an incorrect reading. Davidson, again, with footnotes:
Getting Charlize Theron and Naomi Watts to pre-record looks of mortification didn’t help, either.1 (It was hard to tell watching at home, unless you were keeping track of what each woman was wearing, that these weren’t live shots. 2) It just seemed like a way for MacFarlane to make fun of viewers for being prudish and not “getting it.” 3 (See, the cool girls think that it’s funny!) We got it. 4
- The reaction shots made it funnier for me.
- Not hard to tell. I assumed Theron, etc., were in on the joke, since the joke was on MacFarlane.
- Wait, MacFarlane’s making fun of viewers now? Including me? Even though I got the joke?
- What does “We got it” refer to? Is Davidson implying that most viewers didn’t get the simple joke of the reaction shots but they “got” the complex joke that MacFarlane included these reaction shots to make viewers feel prudish afterwards? Does that make any sense?
Parodies have already cropped up—”We Saw Your Balls,” “We Saw Your Junk”—but none are funny. MacFarlane’s joke is on “MacFarlane” and men in general. These others are like the haw haw interpretation above: vindictive. More, “boobs” is the way men (and Hollywood) reduce women. That’s hardly news. Is “balls” or “junk” the way women reduce men? Even if it’s true, that reduction is not prevalent in our culture, and certainly not in the movies, which is still a male-dominated industry. The joke only works the way MacFarlane played it.
But there’s a greater criticism of the number. Margaret Lyons on Vulture wrote, “As a fun game, count how many actresses he mentions in this song who are portraying rape victims.” Salon did—and came up with four.
These are the actresses and movies he sang about, with Salon’s highlighted:
- Meryl Streep, “Silkwood”
- Naomi Watts, “Mulholland Drive”
- Angelina Jolie, “Gia”
- Anne Hathaway, “Brokeback Mountain.”
- Halle Berry, “Monster's Ball”
- Nicole Kidman, “Eyes Wide Shut”
- Marisa Tomei in “The Wrestler”
- Kristen Stewart, “On the Road”
- Charlize Theron, “Monster”
- Helen Hunt, “The Sessions”
- Scarlett Johansson, our phones
- Jessica Chastain, “Lawless”
- Jodie Foster, “The Accused”
- Hilary Swank, “Boys Don’t Cry”
- Penelope Cruz, “Vanilla Sky”
- Kate Winslet, “Heavenly Creatures” and “Hamlet” and “Titanic” and “Iris” and “The Reader”
The Foster and Swank references probably should’ve been excised but it’s obvious why MacFarlane chose these actresses. With the exception of the kids—Stewart and Johansson—each is Oscar-nominated. Most have won a statuette or two. To do this properly, you need to do it with Oscar-winning actresses rather than, say, Denise Richards.
Again, I don’t particulary like Seth MacFarlane’s brand of humor. But I like even less all these Monday-morning misreadings of the funniest thing I've seen him do.
He's the boob. That's the joke.
America Held Hostage
I seem to get my best reading done now at 2 AM when I wake up and can't get back to sleep. That's my silver linings playbook.
Last night, this morning, I read the following in Rick Perlstein's “Nixonland.” It's about the gathering of power and paranoia by both Nixon and Kissinger during the first 100 days of their time in the White House in 1969:
Senator McGovern, with a former college professor's faith in the power of reason and dialogue, had gone to the White House to meet Henry Kissinger and suggest a plan [to end the war in Vietnam]: since our involvement was a disaster and a mistake, couldn't Nixon just say that his predecessors Kennedy and Johnson had comitted troops in good faith, but events had shown that commitment was no longer consistent with the national interest? Kissinger allowed that the war was a mistake. But he said America couldn't pull out because the right wing would go crazy: “We couldn't govern the country.”
And that, America, is why you can't have nice things. Because the right wing would go crazy.
What Do Corporations, Prominent Republicans and Obama Have in Common? They're All Against Prop 8
What do dozens of corporations, a group of prominent Republicans, and Pres. Obama have in common? They're all against Prop 8. From Richard Socarides' post, “Obama's Brief Against Proposition 8 Goes Far,” on The New Yorker site, March 1, 2013:
Until last May, the President was not even on record as supporting same-sex marriage. Early on during his first term, gay-rights advocates were enraged when the Justice Department filed a grossly insensitive, Bush-era brief in a lesser known gay-rights case. Because the federal government is not a party to the California case, he could have sat this one out, or asked the Supreme Court to rule on narrow procedural grounds that would bring marriage only to California.
Instead, his Administration has filed a brief that goes further than he ever has before, and further than the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals went in its reasoning when it affirmed the lower court’s ruling throwing out Proposition 8. Nor is Obama alone on this one: a group of prominent Republicans submitted an amicus brief of their own against Proposition 8, and dozens of corporations have signed one, too. Even the State of California, which had refused to defend the law, submitted a new amicus brief on Thursday, asking the Court to declare its own law unconstitutional."
Seattle, December 9, 2012